A WTO No Deal Brexit is now the only way to honour the referendum result

A WTO No Deal Brexit is now the only way to honour the referendum result

As Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s attempts to procure a legally-binding change to the backstop appear to have proven futile, the last hope for Theresa May’s deal is slipping away. Reportedly, the Cabinet already anticipates another crushing Commons defeat when the vote is held tomorrow.

As with the earlier vote in January, the Prime Minister will be outflanked on both sides. Firstly, by Remainers of all stripes who seek to press home the huge advantage May ceded to them: following the rejection of her deal, in two subsequent votes, these MPs will be able to rule out a No Deal with World Trade Organisation rules, and then seek an extension to Article 50 in the hope of bringing about a second referendum.

On the other hand, the eurosceptic Conservatives of the European Research Group, led by Jacob-Rees Mogg, have made it abundantly clear they will not vote for the Withdrawal Agreement without real movement on the backstop. In line with their ‘three tests’, the ERG rightly demands a temporary arrangement from which Britain could unilaterally exit, replacing the potentially indefinite one which would turn Britain into a vassal state. Geoffrey Cox, however, is getting nowhere fast; and for the second time, May’s deal seems doomed. 

In terms of leverage over her divided party, May can no longer use the threat of No Deal to bring Tory Remainers round to her deal, after sanctioning the 13th March vote – however hard she tries. Clearly, the Government still thinks it can use the opposite threat of ‘No Brexit’, or ‘No real Brexit’, to whip the troublesome eurosceptics into line. Accordingly, the Prime Minister used her speech in Grimsby on Friday to frame her deal as the last chance for the ERG – and Brexiteers – to get something resembling what they want.

Another key player, Philip Hammond – the anti-Brexit Chancellor, as Get Britain Out has previously written about here – could hardly have been clearer about this when he warned last week:

“For those people who are passionate about ensuring that we leave the European Union on time, [the prospect of a vote to delay Brexit] surely must be something that they need to think very, very carefully about now because they run the risk of us moving away from their preferred course of action if we don’t get this deal through.”

Rightly however, the ERG are showing resolve in the face of this tactical threat. Jacob Rees-Mogg argued last week that even if her deal is rejected and MPs vote for an extension to Article 50, these votes are not legally binding. It still remains in the power of the Government to deliver Brexit on time given ‘votes in the House of Commons cannot override the law’. May could choose not to request the extension from the European Union. It is therefore possible to oppose both the current deal and the efforts to delay the satisfaction of the referendum result beyond 29th March.

Despite the tumult of the past few weeks, we must not forget that in law, following the passing of Article 50, the UK is set to leave the EU on 29th March – with or without a deal. If May is truly determined to deliver Brexit on the 29th, then there is a clear and legal route for her to do so following the likely defeat of her deal.

A WTO No Deal Brexit would ensure Britain leaves the European Union on time, in accordance with Article 50. Yet pursuing this course would not merely be an exercise in damage-limitation. The course remains attractive in and of itself. The economic case for No Deal has been made by Get Britain Out here and here.

What’s more, a WTO No Deal Brexit would firstly deliver on most of the Leave platform and, secondly, present major improvements to the Prime Minister’s deservedly unpopular deal.

Firstly, the repatriation of control over laws, money, borders and fisheries would be secured by a WTO No Deal Brexit. Only a free trade deal with the EU would be missing. On the other hand, precisely such a trade deal with the EU27 would become more likely in the event of No Deal. It has proven so elusive during the negotiations because Britain’s bargaining power has been continually squandered by the Government, ably assisted by the Labour Party.

Jeremy Corbyn has not only come out in favour of a second referendum, but has long advocated Customs Union membership post-Brexit. Whether it is attempting to tie the UK to EU regulatory standards indefinitely, or reverse Brexit completely, such measures can only have given succour to all those on the continent who have never taken Britain’s decision to Leave seriously.

However, if Britain simply Leaves the EU on 29th March, and pursues the radical free trade programme of tariff cuts on up to 90% of imported goods – as leaked from Liam Fox’s Department for International Trade last week – we could call the EU’s bluff by daring to prosper outside its institutions.

Under this ‘hard but smart’ Brexit, as recommended by the IFO Institute in Germany – one of the leading economic research institutes in Europe and regularly quoted in the German media – costs for consumers and businesses would be cut whilst Britain’s negotiating hand would be strengthened. So far, the Government’s unwillingness to present No Deal as a viable option has tied its hands in Brussels. Ironically, this lack of belief in Brexit has made by a WTO No Deal Brexit more likely.

Secondly, the significant advantages of a WTO No Deal Brexit over May’s Deal must not be overlooked, although Geoffrey Cox’s failure to secure a meaningful alteration to the backstop so far will be seen as the central reason for the Government’s likely defeat in Parliament on Tuesday. We should remember the backstop – absolutely unacceptable though it is – was never the only problem with the deal, as Get Britain Out has documented in full here.

As Sir John Redwood has recently made clear in an open letter to Geoffrey Cox, the proposed ‘transition’ period of up to 45 months marked out in the Withdrawal Agreement would turn Britain into a rule-taker with no power of reply.

This would be a fundamental challenge to Britain’s independence. The wide-ranging nature of this threat encompasses everything from business regulations and trading relationships to taxation. Moreover, the UK taxpayer would be paying at least £39 billion for the privilege.

On the other hand, a WTO No Deal Brexit would save Britain from this unnecessary expenditure, which could be better spent on domestic priorities. This Brexit dividend would also include the money saved following the immediate cessation of budget contributions to the EU. Under May’s deal these would continue.

Provided Cox was successful in his renegotiation of the backstop, leading eurosceptics were prepared to accept May’s deal. Rees-Mogg was prepared to back it because if the backstop became time-limited, and Britain could unilaterally leave the EU if no trade deal was struck during the transition, then all the above problems with May’s deal would be time-limited too.  

A spirit of compromise was in the air. A willingness not to make the best the enemy of the good. Now a legal change to the backstop seems impossible – and tomorrow, barring some cosmetic alterations – exactly the same deal which was rejected by an historic 230 votes in January will, in all likelihood, be put to Parliament again.

Eurosceptics must not make a very bad deal the enemy of the best deal now available. Let’s Get Britain Out with a WTO No Deal Brexit on 29th March.