John Baron MP analyses how Boris’ deal is substantially better than May’s offering and that either way he still believes the referendum result will be honoured.

The Prime Minister’s critics should be consuming large helpings of humble pie. They said he didn’t want a Brexit deal, and that he was conducting ‘sham negotiations’. They said the EU would never re-open the Withdrawal Agreement, and that the EU would never revisit the backstop. They were wrong on all these points. With vim, self-belief, and a clear objective, Boris Johnson achieved in fewer than 90 days what Theresa May was unable to accomplish in three years – something, to her credit, she in effect acknowledged when supporting the present deal. However, as ever with Brexit, there remain complexities.

The new Brexit deal is substantially better than Theresa May’s offering. Gone is the anti-democratic backstop, which risked trapping the UK in a potentially indefinite customs union with the EU – out of which we could only escape at a time of its choosing. The knowledge that the UK could be safely kept neutered within the EU’s orbit would have dulled the EU’s incentive to reach a good trade agreement with the UK.

Removing the backstop was necessary because of its significance. It alone could have trapped the UK indefinitely in a structure of the EU’s making; it solely could have denied us Brexit; and it alone would have made a bad trade deal, or no trade deal at all, more likely. This is no longer possible. Now the former backstop has been removed; the pressure is on both sides to agree to a good trade deal – as a result, a good deal is now more likely, not less.

Meanwhile, the people of Northern Ireland gain a democratic exit mechanism from the backstop. The new deal also ensures that Northern Ireland remains an integral part of the United Kingdom, able to benefit from future free trade deals between the UK and other countries.

Furthermore, concerns about workers’ rights are misplaced. Relevant regulation could only be watered down if Parliament voted to do so – such decisions being made here in Westminster, not by remote EU bureaucrats. Critics should bear in mind there are many examples where our standards are already above those of the EU’s.

There are, of course, still aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement that I do not like. But these are manageable, and compromises have been made on both sides. The Prime Minister’s success in negotiating away its worst aspects mean that I am supporting the deal, and will continue to vote for it when the opportunity arises. I was pleased when the Withdrawal Agreement Bill cleared its Second Reading with a majority of 30 votes.

Yet the Commons failed to pass the programme motion, setting out the timetable for the Bill’s remaining stages. Opposition MPs, including some former Conservatives, claimed that insufficient time was set aside for Members to read, understand and scrutinise the legislation. This is nonsense – the Withdrawal Agreement is 95% the same as the version published in November 2018, and the fact that journalists appeared to have little trouble digesting the substance of the Bill overnight also underlined that getting to grips with it was entirely possible.

What exactly will follow is not yet clear, and much will be dependent on how long the EU chooses to offer by way of extension – the ‘Benn Act’ committing the Government to request a delay to 31st January 2020. The Government favours a snap, General Election. However, opposition MPs, despite their threshold of a ‘no deal’ exit being ruled out for the time being having been met, seemingly are so far unwilling to vote for an early poll. The Labour position, in particular, is contradictory – proposing to negotiate a deal with the EU and then campaign against it in a referendum.

The voting public knows that Boris Johnson, and the Government he leads, is straining every sinew to leave the EU with his good deal, and as soon as possible despite the shenanigans of many remain MPs. In this, he has united the Conservative Party and indeed many in the broader conservative family. As long as he can maintain this narrative, he will remain in a commanding position against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, which remains riven by disagreement and faction, and which, unbelievably, is unable to decide on the most significant political issue of our times. I remain optimistic that, one way or another, the referendum result will be honoured.

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