BY JAMIE FOSTER
As Theresa May prepares to bring her contentious deal back before parliament for a third meaningful vote, presuming John Bercow gets over himself, members of the ERG have some serious questions to ask themselves. Do they back the deal this time round to ensure that Brexit is achieved or do they hold their nerve in the face of all the threats that Brexit may not happen if Mrs May’s deal is not delivered?
It is a real concern that, in the event Mrs May’s deal is voted down again, Brexit may not happen at all. A seriously long extension to Article 50 leaves everything up in the air. There is no knowing over the course of a couple of years what may happen. This is likely to sharpen the minds of any ERG MPs thinking about what to do with their vote. Mrs May has directly warned them that if they do not support her deal then it may delay or ultimately derail Brexit altogether. It is tempting to think her deal may be the only way to achieve a swift and lasting Brexit. By saying that they want a no deal Brexit off the table and they want an extension to the Article 50 process the House of Commons have made a long delay to Brexit more likely. We may be saved from this by any of the EU 27 not agreeing to an extension, which would leave us coming out with no deal. Leaving this aside it seems likely that the EU would prefer a long delay to a short one.
In the event of a delay taking us past May of this year we would have to engage in the EU elections. This may have something of a reviving effect on UKIP’s fortunes, as the party tends to do best in EU elections. Alternatively the damage may already have been done there. Nigel Farage is still trying hard to raise the funds for a new Brexit party to contest the election. It does raise the question what sort of person would want to stand as a UK MEP given the short term nature of the position.
For the ERG MPs wavering on the edge of supporting Mrs May’s deal they need to ask themselves what sort of Brexit the deal delivers. With it comes a long transition period where we will continue to be overseen by the ECJ and subject to EU rules and regulations. During that time if we have trouble negotiating the future relationship with the EU the question of the backstop raises its ugly head. As Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, has pointed out there remains a risk we could enter the backstop for an indefinite period as a result of a tricky negotiation. This could have the effect of dividing the United Kingdom.
It is hard to see how Mrs May’s deal brings Brexit in any meaningful sense. It is a deal which leaves us in the thrall of the EU for an indefinite period. We would have no right to complain and no legal mechanism to remove ourselves from the backstop if it came into force. All that would have to happen for that to come about would be for the EU to take positions that we could not stomach and for a deadlock to be reached. This is not too far from a likelihood to ignore as a potential risk.
So what should the ERG do?
The time has come to hold one’s nerve and reject Mrs May’s deal once again. It is not a deal in the interests of the country. Mrs May may say that it is unpatriotic to vote against her deal, but in reality the opposite may be the case. It would be voting against the interests of the country to support her deal. Although it will take courage it is important that the ERG stands its ground. At present the law of the land states that we will be leaving the EU on May 29th with or without a deal. The ERG need to hold on to the idea that this remains the most likely outcome. It is an outcome that will ensure that Brexit takes place in a meaningful sense. We will no longer be a vassal of the EU and no longer subject to its rules and jurisdiction.
It is a time of great concern when the effects of what everyone does is considered to the nth degree. Nonetheless times like this require the courage of our convictions. The ERG should not be persuaded by threats or promises to budge from its position – it represents so many of the people who voted for Brexit. The prize on offer is a truly independent United Kingdom, a prize well worth holding fast to achieve.