The Customs Backstop Guarantees a Bad Deal

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The Customs Backstop Guarantees a Bad Deal

In the event of a no deal, the Government’s backstop arrangement will force a post-Brexit Britain to comply with EU trade tariffs after 2020, putting Brexit in jeopardy, says Joshua King.

The Government continues to derail Brexit. Last week the Cabinet agreed to a backstop arrangement where post-Brexit Britain would match EU trade tariffs after 2020 in the event of no deal with our Masters in Brussels.

This declaration ensures a bad deal because it tethers us to a large part of the EU’s protectionist trade rules and therefore removes the vital safeguarding principle of any negotiation: the capacity to walk away without obligations.

Number 10 has tried to persuade Brexiteers that the backstop, if agreed to by the EU, would be time-limited and wouldn’t stop Britain from being able to sign and implement free trade deals. Not only will Britain be severely weakened in its capacity to offer prospective trading partners, we will be consigned to rule-taking – with no influence on what the tariffs should be, and victim to any change of the rules as determined by Brussels. As far as trade goes, the backstop will leave Britain in a worse position than if we had remained.

Brexiteers are united in their contempt. Jacob Rees-Mogg accurately described the plan as ‘perpetual purgatory’. In spite of his subsequent backing of the proposal, the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, gave a thinly veiled threat to the Prime Minister when he noted ‘Brexiteers’ fearing betrayal.’ Democratic Unionist Leader, Arlene Foster, made her reservations clear when she said: ‘there must be a backstop to the backstop.’

‘No Deal’ is already a very good deal. It means leaving with no obligations, trading under WTO rules with the EU while signing free trade agreements with nations across the world, and reclaiming control of our laws, immigration policy, money, and courts. A good deal is the same as a no deal, except we negotiate better trading terms with the EU, as is in our mutual interest. A bad deal – which Britain is making ever more likely – is still ceding significant sovereignty to Brussels after we leave, Brexit in name only.

‘No deal’ – the safeguard of an ejector seat from the prospect of a bad deal scenario, is now dead. Even no deal would entail the obligation to remain attached to the effects of large parts of the Customs Union. Britain no longer has the option to properly walk away, which only plays into the hands of the EU, who now know Britain is guaranteed to accept a deal, at any cost.

What motive does the EU now have to offer a fair, good deal? We know that the mutual interest of a comprehensive trade deal plays second fiddle to the political interest of keeping the EU project going.

A larger question looms: why is Britain continually playing along to the EU’s tune? Theresa May’s Government has allowed Brussels to dominate the course and shape of proceedings since the beginning.

The idea of a backstop was initially an EU proposal, designed to apply to Northern Ireland, which would have remained ‘part of the customs territory’ of the EU – a gesture that would undermine our constitutional integrity,  and that was rightly rejected by May. Yet the Prime Minister’s next response has been to offer essentially the same arrangement, except this time including the whole of the United Kingdom.

Britain agreed to allow European citizens to settle in Britain right up to the end of 2020, which will be over four years since the vote to Leave. Considering the significant and legitimate role the desire to control immigration played in the Leave vote – this has been a major climbdown. We have signed up to the figure of around £40billion as a ‘Divorce Bill’ – a commitment which Britain was under no means required to pay. £40billion which could have been spent on British public services and infrastructure.

The Government has scuppered our commitment to take back control of our courts, agreeing to give ‘due regard’ to the rulings of the European Court of Justice after exit, and even to refer questions of interpretation of EU law to the European Court until nearly a decade after Brexit. We have even backtracked on the timeline of negotiations. Initially looking to negotiate our exit agreement and future relationship at the same time (giving us a better idea of what we can expect in return for our divorce fee), and later conceding.

Brexiteers have been willing to negotiate in good faith and make concessions. Yet, with the latest backstop backslide, our politicians have been weak and shown their willingness to undermine the electorate.

Joshua King is a Research Executive at grassroots, cross-party campaign Get Britain Out

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    Joshua King
    Joshua King is a graduate in European Law from Maastricht University.
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