Spotting the fakery in May’s forthcoming Brexit pledges

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Spotting the fakery in May’s forthcoming Brexit pledges

Theresa May plans to print five pledges on Brexit. Here’s how to spot their fakery, says Bruce Newsome. 

Theresa May plans to print millions of cards with five pledges on Brexit (a ploy copied from Tony Blair’s election campaigning). Here is my prediction of her top five false claims, and how to refute them.

False claim 1: This is democracy

Theresa May has always claimed that her top priority is to fulfil the democratic will expressed at the referendum in June 2016, but she has bypassed and misled our institutions.

She frittered away the first 18 months with no policy at all. In December 2017, the EU claimed that it wouldn’t negotiate unless Britain promised to pay a fee after separation. Without any policy, without consulting her Cabinet or Parliament, without any mandate from her manifesto of 2017 or the referendum of 2016, she signed away about £40 billion.

Her first Cabinet meeting on Brexit policy came later that month, but did not agree anything. She retained personal control, except to delegate to a favoured civil servant with no formal expertise (Olly Robbins).

She excluded her own Brexit Secretary (David Davis), who was as ignorant of her plan as the rest of Cabinet at Chequers in July 2018. In November, she surprised Cabinet with her draft agreement for the interim period after separation. Her second Brexit Secretary was largely ignorant (Dominic Raab), so he resigned the next day.

May keeps cutting out Parliament too. Her government is in contempt of Parliament for not publishing the legal advice that, she claims, justifies her ridiculous promises for her draft agreement. I have lost count of the number of times she has misled Parliament, of which the most egregious is her claim that her agreement would take Britain out of EU jurisdiction.

In other areas, she has simply omitted to inform Parliament. Just as an example, her government has covertly signed Britain back into the EU’s ever closer defence union. The EU’s plan includes a common military force, a centralized defence acquisitions agency, a centrally controlled defence economy, and a common intelligence system – which would inevitably force Britain to disassociate from NATO and the “five eyes” intelligence alliance.

Since finding most Parliamentarians opposed to her draft agreement in mid-November, she has focused on misleading their constituents. She commenced a 17-day tour of British television and radio studios and “town halls”, and even personally conducted conference calls with constituencies, ahead of a Parliamentary debate that is scheduled from 5 December.

Last Saturday (24 November) – the day before the EU summit that accepted her draft agreement, she released an “open letter” to Britons. This is an argument of pathos, not logos: she whines about “the long and complex negotiation”, her “duty to fulfil on your behalf”, her achievement for “our national interest”, her tireless work since “my first day in the job”: “I have from day one been determined to deliver a Brexit deal that works for every part of our country”.

False claim 2: No deal is no alternative

Her government keeps claiming that the only alternative is “crashing out” or “falling off the cliff” with “no deal”. This week, the Bank of England, under the same Governor (Mark Carney) who warned before the referendum of immediate economic collapse after a vote to Leave, released forecasts of disaster under every scenario short of her deal, including a bigger recession than anything since the 1930s.

“No deal” is a misleading term. We don’t need a deal to leave the EU – we would just leave. Britain would not be cast adrift in anarchy – it would trade under a fairer rules-based system set by the World Trade Organization, which has continued towards free-er trade while the EU has trended toward protectionism. (See this primer “exploding the myths of leaving the Customs Union”).

False claim 3: Preserving the Union

May keeps claiming that she has defended Britain’s union, but she has allowed the EU to separate Northern Ireland. May’s draft agreement allows for Northern Ireland to remain in the EU as the rest of Britain leaves (the misleadingly termed “backstop”). She keeps saying that this won’t happen – but then why she has allowed for it?

She is not in control – the EU gets to force us into this “backstop” by refusing any alternative. Britain cannot veto the backstop.

Member states retain their votes, so they can threaten to push Britain into the “backstop” in order to push their own national interests. For instance, Portugal, Spain, France, the Netherlands, and Denmark have all demanded continuing free access to British fisheries. France has made explicit that it will force Britain into the “backstop” otherwise.

Be aware of May’s slippery promises on Gibraltar too. Before the EU summit last week, Spain threatened to boycott unless Gibraltar was excluded from her draft agreement. May capitulated on this too: her ambassador to the EU sent a letter promising that Spain must consent to the inclusion of Gib in any future deal with the EU. In other words, she has given Spain a say in the sovereignty of Gibraltar, just as she gave the EU a say in the sovereignty of Northern Ireland.

At the EU summit, she claimed that “Gibraltar is covered by the Withdrawal Agreement and by the implementation period” – but she is committing to nothing after the implementation period. Her promise that she “will be negotiating for the whole UK family, including Gibraltar” is not a commitment to keep Gibraltar. As Conservative Home realized, “In essence, it says that Gibraltar won’t be covered by the proposed Brexit deal.” A separate trade relationship between Gibraltar and Spain is the first step to separation of Gibraltar from Britain.

False claim 4: Crossing the finish line

Then we have her false claim that “With Brexit settled, we will be able to focus our energies on the many other important issues facing us here at home,” as she wrote in her open letter.

This is ridiculous because she has committed to a long and uncertain process that will last decades. Her latest Foreign Secretary (Jeremy Hunt) privately told friends that her agreement will leave Britain trapped in more than 30 years of negotiations (the length of time Turkey has been stuck).

Her record is one of aimlessness and procrastination, leaving things to the last minute, accepting whatever non-binding titbit the other side offers, and kicking the other cans down the road.

She has not attempted any new free trade agreements. Continuing membership of the customs union prevents any. It will cost us fees of billions per year. She keeps claiming that she has taken control of our borders, but she has given 3 million non-British EU citizens equivalent rights, non-EU immigration has reached a new high, and she has given the EU exclusive control of Britain’s customs and excises.

May is banking on people accepting her deal out of impatience and ignorance. “The British people don’t want to spend any more time arguing about Brexit,” she told the EU summit on Sunday. Her government started spinning the claim that everyone is BOB (bored of Brexit).

False claim 5: Taking back control

May keeps repeating the lie that she is taking “control over our laws” – she repeated this to the EU summit on Sunday. She told Parliament during the week. She keeps repeating the script in interviews.

The draft agreement gives ultimate interpretation to the European Court of Justice, despite May’s false claims that it will be adjudicated by an “independent panel” (the term doesn’t appear in the draft). The ECJ has ultimate control over when the interim period will end, and what follows – likely this will be the “backstop.”

The EU’s self-interests are to keep Britain in as long as it takes, with as much pain as possible, until Britons are likely to vote to re-join the EU as the least worst alternative to indefinite purgatory.

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    Bruce Newsome
    Bruce Newsome, Ph.D. is a lecturer in International Relations at the University of California Berkeley
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