I really can’t believe it, but this United Kingdom government seems to be on the verge of total surrender. With every day that passes we seem to be getting more craven. We have been so feeble in our preparations to leave the European Union (EU) on World Trade Organisation terms, and so unnaturally terrified of the consequences (greatly exaggerated by the scaremongers) that we have now said we will remain in the so-called Customs Union. Which means that our trade policy will be run by Brussels at least until 2022, and — at this rate — long beyond that date. We will not be able to do free trade deals of any great value. We will not be able to take back control of our tariffs, our borders, our money, our laws. It is not even clear whether we will be able to set our own VAT rates — and yet we will have no one round the table to argue the UK case.
And most incredibly of all, the whole process will be justifiable by the European Court of Justice — yes, that court that we were all told would cease to have any say in this country.
I want you to savour the full horror of this capitulation. Under Article 50, the UK is at least able, in theory, to leave the EU. We do not have to consult any other authority. But under these proposals, we are agreeing that the EU would have a say on whether Britain is capable of making that final exit from the EU’s essential institution, the Customs Union. In other words, we are on the verge of signing up for something even worse than the current constitutional position. These are terms that might be enforced on a colony.
No member of the government, let alone the cabinet, could conceivably support them, or so you would have thought. And yet the awful truth is that even if the Cabinet mutinies — as they ought — it will make little difference. Even if we agree with the EU that the UK must have a unilateral break clause, so that we can go our own sweet way at a time of our choosing, it is irrelevant: Because the programme and ambition of the government — as set out at Chequers and never yet repudiated by the prime minister — is to remain in captivity: To stay in our cell, even if we are given the theoretical key to escape.
On the present plans we will be a vassal state, and in the Customs Union, until such time as our EU partners may feel moved to enter into fresh negotiations on a trade deal. It is frankly hard to see why they should. The fifth biggest economy in the world is already voluntarily becoming their satellite — a handy and subservient market for their goods. They are trousering £39 billion (Dh183.9 billion). And they are looking at a British Government that would seem willing to agree to sign virtually any treaty, if only the whole business would go away.
The so-called Chequers proposals are in truth very far from dead. The essence of the idea — that the UK should remain in the Customs Union and the single market for goods and agri-food — is what the backstop entails. And you can be absolutely sure that this idea will be at the heart of the “deal” that I have no doubt the Prime Minister will shortly and magically secure.
She will delay for as long as she reasonably can, and then she will say that unless MPs sign up to this surrender, we will have the chaos of “no deal”. As a scare tactic, it is infamous. The government has deliberately and flagrantly failed to prepare the UK to walk away from the talks, the better to be able to bludgeon MPs into voting for surrender. As a scare tactic, it is also false: yes, there might be some temporary effects, but as with the Millennium Bug I do not think the planes would fall from the sky or that medicines would have to rationed, or any of the other nonsense. And it is also false as a pair of alternatives.
There is a much, much better way forward for Britain — sketched out repeatedly by myself and many others: We get rid of the backstop; we agree with the EU, the Irish and the Commission that there is no need for a hard border in Ireland; and we get on with a SuperCanada free trade deal.
This deal, when it comes, must be thrown out wholesale. It is not too late to do better — and the country deserves it.
— The Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2018
Boris Johnson is the former UK foreign secretary.