Here is my assessment of the Withdrawal Agreement. I leave aside its accompanying Political Declaration which is still incomplete, and in any event is just a wish list with no greater legal status than my letter to Santa.
We will leave on 29 March and nothing will change whatsoever, we will remain subject to all EU law and jurisdiction, save that we will no longer have any role in the framing of the law and regulation by which we must abide. This will be for a two-year ‘transition’.
Having waited over 40 years to leave the EU, I can live with a couple more, even at risk of temporary new burdensome laws over which we have no control.
From the outset, the Agreement binds us into a financial payment over years costing some £40 Billion, the exact sum being determined by processes ultimately under EU control.
Set against annual payments in perpetuity, were we to remain members, this is a bargain.
So far, so good?
Well, at least tolerable?
It is during the 2-year ‘transition’ that our future trading relationship will be negotiated. The difficulty is that even before the negotiation opens we have played our strongest card by already binding ourselves into the financial settlement.
Historically, EU trade negotiations have taken a long time. These ones have a further complicating factor: they must deliver a solution that obviates the need for a ‘hard’ border between Eire and Northern Ireland.
If that solution has not been agreed before the end of the transition then one of two things must occur:
Either the transition must be extended indefinitely with all its costs, restrictions and obligations.
Or, the UK must remain in the EU customs union, and additionally Northern Ireland will effectively remain within the EU internal market. In this scenario, the only way we could preserve the integrity of the UK and avoid border checks on goods going from the mainland to Northern Ireland, would be for ourselves to abide by the EU internal market regulations.
These arrangements might continue forever, because the withdrawal agreement hands a veto over ending them to the EU. It is extraordinary that we should place our future in the hands of the EU in such a binding way, with no other way out.
We are reliant entirely on their good faith, but they will have us exactly where they want us: unable to implement international trade agreements elsewhere; unable to develop competitive advantage; they will have free access to our markets; continuing to benefit from our financial contributions; and they will have us under their jurisdiction without any of our tiresome objections to new regulation, harmonisation and integration.
What possible incentive will they have to release us from this trap into which we will have so willingly walked?
The terms of any future relationship would have to be so heavily one-sided in order to give them any inducement to do so.
We will have bound ourselves by international treaty law without escape.