BY JAMIE FOSTER
Theresa May’s deal looks dead in the water after Geoffrey Cox the Attorney General gave his advice that the legal risk of being stuck indefinitely in the backstop remained unchanged despite new legal documents secured from Strasbourg. While there still stands to be a vote on the deal, the DUP has already said they will be rejecting the deal following Geoffrey Cox’s advice. It would have been a mountain to cross to have overturned the vote rejecting Theresa May’s deal, but now it looks like an impossibility.
Theresa May came back from Strasbourg with two documents to put before the House of Commons. The first was a joint declaration and the second was a unilateral declaration by the United Kingdom. The joint declaration said that in the event of the EU not agreeing to the UK leaving the backstop the UK could go to arbitration as a way of leaving the backstop. The unilateral declaration said that the backstop was a temporary arrangement that neither side wished to enter into. Geoffrey Cox advised that the joint declaration had the same legal effect as the withdrawal agreement and that the unilateral declaration would be used to interpret the withdrawal agreement. Despite this he said that the legal risk of being stuck indefinitely in the backstop remained unchanged due to the difficulties of proving bad faith on the part of the EU in not allowing the UK to leave.
This advice of Cox is likely to mean that the ERG group are unlikely to change their position and support Mrs May’s deal. The Labour Party has also said that the changes are not sufficient for them to change their position on the deal. If parliament again rejects Mrs May’s deal they will go on to vote on a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. If Parliament rejects this then they will vote on asking the EU to extend Article 50. It is important to remember that all 27 members must agree to any extension and that if one member rejects it we will be leaving on 29 March with no deal.
In the end Mrs May was stuck between a rock and a hard place with the UK parliament saying they would not accept a withdrawal agreement with the current backstop in it and the EU saying they would not agree to a withdrawal agreement without a backstop. It does look as if Mrs May ran the clock down in order to try to put maximum pressure on those voting on her deal to back it. Nonetheless this tactic appears not to have paid off. It looks as if we are heading towards a no deal Brexit which would not be such a bad thing. The likelihood is that parliament will do everything in its power to prevent that from happening. If this means delaying or ultimately preventing Brexit parliament will have failed in its democratic duty to put the voters’ intentions into action.
The EU’s intransigence and unwillingness to compromise is yet another reason why we ought to be leaving such an organisation. It shows that the organisation is more interested in its political interests than it is in the economic interests of all. As an economic community it ought to be guided by economic reality to trying to fashion the best possible exit deal for the UK. Instead it has wanted to punish the UK for leaving in the first place as a warning to any other member considering a similar path.
It is a tale of incompetence on behalf of Mrs May and her negotiators and intransigence on the part of the EU which has led to a deal being unrealistic. Mrs May has been unable to gauge the likelihood of the Commons supporting her position. Once again she has proved that her political antenna for searching out the position of others is not very effective. Having said that she was up against two impossible barriers to securing a deal. Firstly there was no way of finding a deal that appealed to the entire House of Commons, split as it is. Secondly, the EU was never going to agree to a deal that let the UK off lightly. It would be ironic of the matter was concluded by one of the EU 27 refusing to allow an extension to Article 50 so that we left with no deal as a result. Of all the outcomes a ‘no deal’ Brexit looks the most attractive due to achieving the result of the referendum without having to pay the divorce bill and keeping us outside the customs union and single market. If we were to leave on March 29th with no deal it would at least mean that the process of Brexit was over and we could get on with seizing the opportunities laid open to us as a newly independent country. Let’s hope that things work out like that. In the meantime we will just have to wait and see.