The Brexit Select Committee had its first meeting with Martin Selmayr, Secretary General of the European Commission today (4th February). Pleasantries were effusive, but we found just one word of agreement between ourselves. That came in the description of the UK’s departure from the EU without a formal deal – described as ‘suboptimal’. We received some castigation for not meekly agreeing, as a country, to the draft Withdrawal Agreement brought back by the Prime Minister. This ignores the significant horse-trading, treaty change and new protocols post-Heads of Government agreement that took place in the Republic of Ireland following the refusal to ratify at the first Treaty of Lisbon referendum in 2008; or in France following its refusal to ratify the European Constitution at a referendum in 2005; or the Danish public’s refusal to approve the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. Going back for change is not new, but then some members are ‘good’ and others are just ‘bad’. The messages we received from Martin Selmayr were clear. There has been no notification, to date, from the UK Government requesting a re-opening of the Withdrawal Agreement and, in any event, that matter is closed. The EU negotiating team under Monsieur Barnier have finished their work, the EU27 have approved it and that is that. When it was pointed out that there is the small matter of a 230 majority in the House of Commons against the current deal, the greatest defeat for a UK government in history, this was brushed aside as a mere irritant. When pressed that there is the potential for a deal under terms of the Malthouse Compromise that follows from the Brady Amendment passed on 29th January, but that it must include the ditching of the backstop, the suggestion fell on deaf ears. There can be no change to the Withdrawal Agreement text, but letters of assurance on the backstop: codicils, even a letter signed by all of the EU27 might be provided. The backstop is advanced as an ‘insurance’, we are told, and it will be unlikely ever to be used. If this not-ever-to-be-used text, unwanted by the Commission and EU27 to have anything beyond a short life, unwanted by the UK Parliament (following Brady), and so it must now be construed unwanted by the Government, and most certainly unwanted by the public – why won’t this dead parrot admit that life has indeed left it? And then came the kicker. In the event of no deal, which must now have increased in likelihood by several points, the EU will still demand the £39 billion divorce fee, else future relations would be forever soured. Let’s get this right: No deal – £39 billion Appalling deal with no guarantee of an acceptable future relationship – £39 billion A deal we might swallow (minus the backstop) – £39 billion A good deal and a great future relationship – £39 billion No wonder the sequencing of the negotiations was insisted upon at the outset. What was the question? The answer is £39 billion.