As I write news has just come through that the vote on the Government’s proposed EU withdrawal bill is to be postponed: the agony is prolonged.
The last few weeks have seen the largest correspondence I have received since 1997. It dwarfs the ban on hunting which generated the next largest. Whilst I have read them all, I am afraid I have had to resort to “your views are noted” as there simply isn’t time in the day to answer them individually.
When, and if, we get to that vote these are the issues that I have to wrestle with:
I thoroughly disapprove of the agreement because it dispenses with our strongest cards before we even begin the negotiation on our future trading relationship.
In any negotiation the strongest position to be in, is to be able to walk away if you don’t like the terms offered. The withdrawal agreement takes that ability away and leaves us trapped in a deeply disadvantageous limbo if agreement on the trading relationship isn’t reached.
Our next strongest card is our money. We were constantly told that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’. Yet the withdrawal agreement would have us commit to the financial settlement before we even begin the trading negotiation.
So disagreeable are the terms of the limbo that results from a failure to reach a trade deal, that we will be induced to settle for pretty poor terms in order to avoid it. Already the 27 are lining up with their demands.
These are huge risks. In reaching my decision however, I have to balance them against what might follow a Government defeat: Parliament might vote for the ‘Norway’ option leaving us even more wedded to the EU (incidentally, Norway has a very small population and an economy which is a fraction of our own); or it might vote for a second referendum with the huge frustration and disunity that it would provoke; or it might vote to delay the leaving date, prolonging this desperate uncertainty. All of these are potentially worse that the PM’s agreement might turn out to be.
In a ‘one to one’ with the PM last week, I pointed out that none of these eventualities can arise without her Government bringing forward the legislation to enact them. Parliament on its own can’t do any of them. I asked if she would stand firm and that we would leave on 29 March 2019. She said yes.
In the current climate, and with events moving so fast, can I rely on that answer?
Well, I’m still wrestling with that one.