We are prevented from doing free trade deals. Image Credit: Hugo A. Sanchez/©Gulf News

If you want proof that this Brexit deal is a disaster for the United Kingdom, look at the eagerness of the other countries to sign it. For the last two-and-a-half years, the European Commission has been telling us that Brexit was a mistake, that we would regret it, that we would be worse off — and in private they have been amazed at the willingness of the British negotiators to prove them right.

The other European Union (EU) countries have signed the deal immediately, because they know that they have us exactly where they want us. We are a satellite state — a memento mori fixed on the walls of Brussels as a ghastly gaping warning to all who try to escape.

Under this deal we are locked in the EU’s Customs Union; we are forced to accept EU laws, and with no say in the making of those laws. We are prevented from doing free trade deals. We are about to hand over pounds 39 billion for nothing in return.

And do not believe for one second that this is just some temporary arrangement, or that the current UK negotiators sincerely intend that the “backstop” arrangements should expire. This deal cripples our ability to negotiate any further with the EU. No wonder they like it in Brussels. It will be up to the EU to decide when and whether we are fit to leave the Customs Union and the regulatory control of the EU; and if we ever pluck up the courage to ask for our release, it is all too easy to see what further concessions they will demand.

We are told that the deal gives us back control over our borders. Stuff and nonsense. We have not even begun to negotiate the rules under which citizens and workers will in the future be able to come from the EU — and if Brussels doesn’t like our offer they will keep us in the backstop.

We are told that it gives us an independent trade policy. A monstrous untruth. Under this deal we have to levy tariffs set in Brussels and continue to send 80 per cent of that cash to the EU.

We are told that we have taken back control of our laws. This is such a stonking, stinking, steaming lie that it is amazing that anyone in government can propose it with a straight face.

We have already agreed that the whole of the UK will remain subject to EU customs and trade rules — and much else besides, including social, environmental and state aid rules (with extra provisions for Brussels to rule Northern Ireland). If we ever decide to come out of the backstop, then Brussels will almost certainly repeat their demands that we accept EU law on services as well.

It cannot be repeated too often that we have not taken back control but handed over control of our laws — and with no UK presence in Brussels to intercede on behalf of British business or citizens. I really don’t see how any democrat could vote for this deal; and I don’t believe for a second that it will get through parliament.

The only argument I currently hear in its favour is — once again — Project Fear: That we have run out of time, and that all the alternatives are worse. Forgive me for repetition, but that is simply not true.

The way out of this mess is clear. We should bank what is sensible in the Withdrawal Agreement and the political declaration, on citizens, on mutual recognition of qualifications, home and foreign policy coordination and so on.

We should junk the backstop and replace it with a simple commitment by all sides to what is obvious and accepted by all — that there is no need for a hard border in Northern Ireland and never will be. We should commit to getting on with a new partnership built around a zero-tariff, zero-quota free-trade deal.

We should refuse to hand over a large chunk of our £39 billion (Dh182.98 billion) until that deal is done by the end of the so-called implementation period in 2020.

Above all, we should prepare for the unlikely event of leaving on World Trade Organisation terms.

We cannot go on any more with this hopeless can’t-do spirit; this reflexive negativity and defeatism that so woefully underestimates the courage and creativity of the British people.

Yes, there will be some logistical and technical challenges, and yes they will require some effort. But it is disgraceful that the government is — deliberately — allowing those short-term challenges so to dominate the debate that we are ready to consign ourselves to decades as the impotent captive of the EU’s over-taxed, badly regulated, low-growth economic model.

We need to stop hearing from ministers about all the allegedly insuperable problems they face, and which apparently make it necessary for us to stay in the EU in all but name; and we need to start hearing about how they propose to tackle those issues and to allow this country to take advantage of Brexit.

This is a very great country, and we now have a generational opportunity to become even more dynamic and innovative; to build our friendships and partnerships not just in the EU but in the growth economies of the world — many of them Commonwealth countries. The world is looking on with bafflement and in some cases dismay at this humiliation.

It cannot go on. We should vote down the deal, junk the backstop, recover our self-belief and go for SuperCanada — and we will thrive mightily.

— The Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2018

Boris Johnson is a former British foreign secretary.