Boris Johnson has two options to get a Brexit ‘deal’ – but one of them is a trap

Boris Johnson has two options to get a Brexit ‘deal’ – but one of them is a trap

Boris Johnson says he wants to leave the European Union with ‘a deal’ – but there are two ways of attempting this. One option doesn’t require winning a vote in the House of Commons; the second one risks collapsing the Government he is expected to be asked to form tomorrow.

One is to offer a basic Free Trade Agreement and accept the countless ‘mini-deals’ that the EU has already offered us which keep goods flowing and planes flying. The other is to go for an official ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.

The current Withdrawal Agreement is brimming with sovereignty-sapping poison, purposely designed to lock us into EU laws and keep the EU in charge. Even without the backstop, the surrender agreement is filled with booby traps, each clause subjugating the UK in a wide range of areas. For example, Article 4 is not part of the backstop but it sets EU law as superior to our own. The whole document is a dead-end that never led to Brexit or a future trade deal and represents everything wrong with the failed approach of Theresa May.

But simply adapting this failed document is missing the point. You can rip out the backstop and tinker with product standards but the Withdrawal Agreement was designed solely to keep the UK in the EU’s orbit. To put it bluntly: you can replace the nozzle of your vacuum cleaner but it still sucks. The whole DNA of the deal is Brexit-In-Name-Only. Why are we attempting complex gene-editing with just three months to go?

Even worse, trying this approach risks Parliament amending the Bill because the Withdrawal Act passed in 2018 says there must be a vote in Parliament on an official “Withdrawal Agreement” as defined by Article 50 in the Treaty on European Union. Because fanatical Remainers would rather sink the ship than see it leave port, they’ll add a Customs Union, Single Market membership or a second referendum if they ever get their hands on it. If they’re lucky, the Government might be able to pull the Bill by cancelling the time allotted to it. But more likely, the rebels could steal the Commons agenda and pass the legislation into law.

This would all be avoided if we steered clear of an official Withdrawal Agreement. If Boris Johnson really wants to both leave the EU and get a trade agreement, then the only way to do so is to offer a basic trade deal outside of the Article 50 mechanism. Under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 any such treaty must be laid before Parliament but if Parliament wanted to block such a deal the Government could override it.

This new trade agreement would be complemented by all of the mini-deals arranged in case we failed to secure an official Withdrawal Agreement. We’ve already negotiated continued membership of the Common Transit Convention, cutting red tape for UK traders. We’ve reached an ‘Open Skies’ agreement with the US and made deals on flights with a number of other countries. The European Commission said it would list the UK as an authorised third country for trade in animals, plants and food products. And with no Withdrawal Agreement, UK lorries will still be licensed to operate in the EU until the end of 2019, giving two further months in which to negotiate a permanent arrangement.

After three years of dithering, the EU must believe we are serious, but if they believe we have to get this through the Remain-dominated Parliament, it will severely weaken our negotiating hand. And that’s also why it’s crucial that this is a take-it-or-leave-it offer. We cannot let this one-time offer morph into something that isn’t Brexit – we’ve played that game before. Leave voters already watched with horror as Theresa May’s tub-thumping Lancaster House Speech gradually turned into the stitch-up at Chequers.

Dropping the Withdrawal Agreement in its entirety is not only desirable for the next Government, it’s essential for the survival of the Conservative Party. If Boris Johnson wants to keep his promise to leave the EU “come what may”, and wants to get a deal, then the only chance he’s got is asking for a basic trade deal. Playing around with Theresa May’s deal would not only look terrible to sceptical voters and boost the Brexit Party no end, it would give Parliament the chance to derail Brexit entirely.