On Saturday the Commons declined to give approval to the PM’s Withdrawal Agreement by a majority of 14, but it is far from over yet.
We never actually got to the so-called ‘meaningful vote’ to approve or to reject the agreement outright, because that motion was amended.
The amendment was the brainchild of Sir Oliver Letwin, a man whose own brain is the size of a planet. I know because, during the Cameron regime, I worked closely with him. This latest wheeze however, puts him in close competition with King James the First for the title of ‘wisest fool in Christendom’.
Sir Oliver says he supports the Boris agreement, and I believe him, his honesty is absolute and his integrity of the highest standard.
He is passionately against leaving the EU without a deal and if, he argues, we had approved the agreement on Saturday, then the terms of the Withdrawal Number Two Act (September 2019) -(the ‘surrender act’ requiring the PM to ask the EU for a further extension of our membership) – would have been satisfied and Boris would have been freed from making that humiliating request.
Suppose however, the bill subsequently put to Parliament to ratify the agreement as an international treaty then failed to be passed by 31 October (perhaps due to opposition by the ERG brexiteer ‘Spartans’), the result would then be that we would be out of the EU without any agreement and subject to all the terrifying possibilities whipped up by ‘project fear’.
So, Sir Oliver’s solution, set out in his amendment, was to withhold approval until the ratification bill becomes law, forcing the PM to apply for an extension just in case it doesn’t.
The blindingly obvious, which has escaped Sir Oliver, is that the greatest enthusiasts for his amendment are those who are opposed to us leaving the EU at all, and they intend to use the delay caused by his amendment to achieve the very opposite of what he intended.
By my book, king James narrowly beats Sir Oliver to the title.
As to the Agreement itself, like the previous agreement, it involves an implementation period in which a future free trade deal with the EU is negotiated. The shape of this agreement and its accompanying Political Declaration means that the likely outcome is a much looser association with the EU than Mrs May’s agreement envisaged.
The huge advantage of the Boris agreement is that we are in a much stronger position during the trade negotiations. The previous agreement would have left us in a state of powerless limbo (The Backstop) had the negotiations failed to deliver a continuation of the absence of any border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
So dreadful was the possibility of the Backstop, that we would have accepted almost any terms demanded by the EU in order to avoid finding ourselves in it. That danger no longer exists
The fly in the ointment however, is one the Agreement shares with Mrs May’s earlier effort: during the implementation period we remain subject to all EU law and jurisdiction, including any new laws -the making of which we will have been excluded from.
It is a risk, but on balance, I’m prepared to take it.