10 things the PM needs to say to MPs to reassure them that her deal is worth backing

10 things the PM needs to say to MPs to reassure them that her deal is worth backing

Debate now rages over whether Cox’s codpiece is sufficiently armour plated, and developments are breaking almost every hour.

There will be a strong and understandable temptation in some quarters to give negotiators the benefit of the doubt. But let’s assume for a moment that at some point the deal is signed off; even then there are certain preconditions for it to work. The probability of each or any of them being enacted are, moreover, to say the least highly variable; and the status of several of them are unknown.

Here are ten critical factors.

Who will be taking the negotiations further? Several of the Talleyrands involved in negotiations have been caught hampering rather than delivering Brexit. Sorting out the end treaty needs fresh blood, especially promotions and transfers of bright civil servants who are at ease with the policy they are pursuing. That means a bit of selective De-Ba’athification at the very top levels, especially in the Cabinet Office.

Otherwise, to recall something of the lessons set out by Estonian MEP Igor Grazin, we’ll end up following the route of Belarus when we should be pursuing that of the Baltics.

Will the negotiators be aspirational? Chunks of Whitehall committed the fundamental error of seeing Brexit as a damage limitation exercise, to be mitigated by minimalizing change. Instead, there needs to be a total reappraisal of what is in play. Business leaders would need to be encouraged to shift their lobbying to focus on global competitiveness, and reflect on huge new opportunities to remove gold plating and red tape. Geopolitically, planners need to grapple with the reality that Brexit allows the generational opportunity to break the Commission’s monopoly on how the continent will develop over the coming decades. Brexit breaks the mould.

Who will go on the arbitration panel? Disputes arising under the Withdrawal Agreement will be settled by a panel. The terms for nomination, however, pretty much demand that even the UK’s delegates are EU alumni. This suggests a panel that will have an inbuilt majority against UK interests, acting as the safeguard to those interests. The Government might have partially mitigated fears over this by announcing a proposed list of UK panellists who aren’t Jean Monnet professors, didn’t appear on letterheads campaigning for Remain in the referendum, or voted against Brexit in the House of Lords.

Will the Government row back over Justice and Home Affairs? Policy on signing up to the JHA pillar goes beyond what Conservative backbenchers have long and vociferously argued was prudent or desirable. Policy direction needs reining in here to keep the UK-EU relationship intergovernmental, rather than locking the UK back into the EU’s institutions.

Will the Government establish clear blue water on EU Defence? The risks have been set out in a recent Brexit Central piece by Richard Dearlove and Professor Prins. The Government needs to end its policy drift over the emerging institutional and financial framework underpinning a growing EU Common Defence. At present, elements are being signed up to haphazardly, usually without even Parliamentary scrutiny, and without considering the strategic whole.

Will the UK stick up for fishermen? UK trawlermen have every reason to be worried about a deal that outrageously removes the UK from catch negotiations involving its own waters. The UK could now warn that it will not countenance any increase in catch, or reduction of UK share, during transition that is not supported by its own scientific advice; that the UK will robustly police its grounds; and that any attempt at backroom quota abuse will lead not just to a revision of what it interprets as historic pre-1973 rights, but also to the UK closing grounds on a rotating basis based on (permitted but stretched) EU environmental management rules.

Will there be a clampdown on any EU propaganda? DG COMM may be tempted to distribute pro-EU PR material (in its many and varied forms) in the midst of ongoing negotiations. The last Danish referendum, on leaving Europol, saw claims from EU-backed campaigners about a withdrawal vote leading to an increase in everything from terror attacks to the number of chicken thieves.

What will the policy be over the No Deal default? The Political Declaration route does not guarantee an end deal, and may yet end up delivering a WTO exit (just with £39 billion extra fees paid). Not having it formally recognised as being in prospect weakens the UK negotiating hand. Meanwhile, the next Commission that will be negotiating the terms has not even been nominated yet. It makes sense to keep No Deal as a prospect in play.

There are two further considerations. Firstly, preparation for No Deal should be reconsidered from what may be best under security of supply grounds anyway. Whitehall’s analysis of just-in-time systems ought to have reminded planners here and across the West of strategic vulnerabilities, and of the need to reflect on aspects of redundancy, contingency, and security when faced with future asymmetric conflict or trade interruption at a time of international tension.

Secondly, the Government needs to show it has properly gotten to grips with the grave implications of Article 18 of the Backstop. In the absence of an official unilateral withdrawal clause, this provides the only such escape route – but only by acting as a Rioters’ Charter.

Will the Government be assertive in defence of its interests during transition? We should recall the answer of President Juncker to a question by Rupert Matthews MEP, and the extent to which UK interests could be ridden roughshod over;

“It is worthwhile recalling that the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is unequivocal in this respect: only the Court has jurisdiction to interpret Union law or provisions in substance identical to Union law when such interpretation would be binding directly or indirectly on the Union. This is nothing new or specific to the Withdrawal Agreement of the United Kingdom from the European Union compared to other international agreements. In this context, it is important to recall that the Withdrawal Agreement relies to a large extent on Union law and Union law concepts.”

Given the first point, when will there be a new PM? Transition needs to happen with time enough for a new leader to clearly imprint their mission on the negotiators.

Even if it is passed, the Withdrawal Agreement is not the end of Brexit. It is the end of a phase, whose prospect of success also depends heavily upon a variety of other factors. They have barely yet been considered. Time is short to do so.