There comes a point when you have to stand up to bullies. After more than two years of being ruthlessly pushed around by the EU, it is time for the UK to resist.
With painful politeness we have agreed to the EU’s timetable for discussions. We have consented to hand over huge quantities of taxpayers’ money. We have quite properly volunteered to protect the rights of EU nationals in the UK. So far we have nothing to show for our generosity and understanding.
In presuming to change the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom, the EU is treating us with naked contempt. Like some chess player triumphantly forking our king and our queen, the EU Commission is offering the UK Government what appears to be a binary choice. It is a choice between the break-up of this country, or the subjugation of this country; between separation or submission. It is between treating Northern Ireland as an economic colony of the EU, or treating the whole of the UK as such a colony.
No prime minister, no government, no Member of Parliament and no democrat could conceivably accept the first option — that unless North-South trade can be carried on in Ireland without any need for extra controls, Northern Ireland should remain forever a part of the EU customs union and single market. That would mean a border down the Irish Sea. It would mean customs checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It would mean violating the Act of Union of 1800, and the very basis on which this country is founded.
If we were to allow this economic annexation of Northern Ireland, by a foreign power, we would be treating Northern Irish MPs as somehow second-class legislators, deprived now and forever of any say in many of the laws operational in their own constituencies. Even if the rest of the UK were able to do free trade deals, Northern Ireland would not be able to take part.
Under the proposals now being put forward by the UK Government — the Chequers plan — the whole of the UK would effectively remain in the customs union and single market. This is a catastrophe for Brexit, and makes a mockery of the project.
It seems that in the last few days UK negotiators have agreed that we will remain in the “customs territory” of the EU, an even stronger commitment than remaining in the customs union. It means that for trading purposes the UK is simply conceived of as part of EU territory, as though it were a department of France. We will be outside the EU but run by the EU, in the sense that from next year we will of course have no one in the Commission directorate of external trade, no influence over tariffs, and no ability to decide what trade and commercial policies will be pursued in our own country.
It is not just that we will be unable to do our own free trade deals. We will have them done for us, on terms that we may or may not like. The UK is a highly attractive trading partner, and a luscious potential market for goods and services. In the next 10 years we can expect plenty of global negotiations about access to the UK’s market. It is one of the many disgraceful features of the Chequers proposals that, if and when such deals are done, UK officials will not be involved.
Let us suppose that in the course of the next 10 years — as seems likely — the EU enters into negotiations with China or America. It is our markets that will be treated as bargaining chips, by the EU, and one can easily imagine that — without any kind of political consent from this country — the EU might decide to open up, say, health care markets to American providers. Or they might agree any number of deals that damaged UK interests.
This is not the “pragmatic” solution; this is not minimising risk. Take this together with the “common rule book” — exposing the entirety of UK business, including the vast majority that does not export to the EU — to the uncontrolled torrent of EU regulation, and you have a recipe for subordination that seriously threatens the economic health of this country.
Nor does this option even protect the Union, since it is clear that the Commission would still want extra controls down the Irish Sea. And it is no use claiming that such membership of the EU customs union would be temporary. It is obvious that the proposed “Facilitated Customs Arrangement” is a non-starter; and once we have agreed to remain in for the time being, and paid up our £39 billion (Dh188.2 billion), the EU will have no incentive to negotiate anything else.
We cannot accept either of these appalling options. It is time to scrap the backstop, and simply agree what is manifestly the case — that no one wants any new physical checks at the Northern Irish border, nor is there any need for them.
There is a better solution, and one that the Commission has long since expected. We still have ample time to make it work, not least since our partners would vastly prefer it to WTO terms. It is the Super Canada, zero tariff, zero quota, free trade deal at the heart of a deep and special partnership. It is right for both sides, and it is time to go for it.
— The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2018
Boris Johnson is the former UK foreign secretary.