May has delivered a Brexit deal that everyone hates – but a way out is still possible

Picture by EU2017EE Estonian Presidency (CC BY 2.0)

Jonathan Edwards, Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

As I write this column Westminster is in a state of chaos.

The British Cabinet has been eviscerated by resignations; the Prime Minister walks a tight rope awaiting the triggering of an internal Conservative Leadership election; and the Labour opposition finds itself neck deep in a quagmire of incoherence and cynicism.

We are now in the Brexit divorce negotiations endgame and the British Government finds itself staring down a barrel of a gun.

The situation has been self-induced by the Prime Minister’s decision to base her Brexit policy from the outset on extreme red lines that have proven irreconcilable with protecting people’s jobs and wages.

This is why my colleagues and I voted against triggering Article 50 – the mechanism by which the time-limited negotiations are kick-started – in the first place.

It was totally obvious, based on the British Governments chosen policy, that this impasse would be reached.

Concern

The Withdrawal Agreement itself is a document of 585 pages of incomprehensible legal text explaining how the British State leaves the EU.

During exchanges in the House of Commons on the Agreement last week I raised my concern that one part of the British State – Northern Ireland – would be offered a huge economic advantage compared to Wales if the safety-net backstop proposals were ever triggered.

This backstop would come into play if, after another round of lengthy negotiations, the British Government fails again to find a solution to not having a hard border on the island of Ireland, whilst also being outside of the Single Market and Customs Union.

Surely what’s good enough for Northern Ireland must be good enough for Wales.

My biggest concern, however, lies with the accompanying Political Declaration which aims to give an indication of the future relationship between the British State and the European Union following the conclusion of the transition phase which begins in March 2019.

In reality, this document is far more important than the technocratic proposals for the divorce procedure. Regrettably, this document as it stands is only 27 pages long and is deliberately vague, meaning it could be interpreted in a whole series of ways.

‘No deal’

This creates two major problems:

1.) All the major disputes in the House of Commons on the future trade relationship will remain unresolved. Without clear direction in the Political Deceleration, the ferocious fights that we have seen since the referendum have only been kicked down the road.

When this debate begins in earnest following March on a far more complex set of issues, with even bigger consequences, the current turmoil in Westminster will look like a tickle fight.

2.) To endorse the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration as drafted would be to support leaving the European Union with no idea of the end destination – a blind Brexit.

As a public servant, I need to be able to look into the eyes of my fellow citizens in Wales and tell them I am making a decision which is in their best interest.

In all good consciousness, I could not do so after supporting the British Government’s current proposals.

‘No deal’ has never been a realistic outcome. Earlier in the summer, I challenged the British Government to remove it from the political table as it would have no meaningful impact on the negotiations.

Foolishly, they have decided to use ‘no deal’ as a means to bribe MPs into supporting their deal.

This deal will now be put to MPs in Westminster. In an astounding act of political miscalculation, the Prime Minister has managed to deliver a deal that pleases none of the people, all of the time.

The anti-European hardliners hate it and those of us wishing to put the jobs and wages of our constituents first hold it in equal disregard.

This Westminster Government has managed the bizarrely impressive feat of negotiating a deal that fails on all fronts.

With widespread discontent, the Parliamentary vote will be lost by the Westminster Government on its deal. The game of ‘deal or no deal’ chicken will then rebound on the on them.

The Labour party will subsequently likely lose a self-indulgent no-confidence motion in the government.

And it is then, and only then, will the political space exist for more sensible proposals to come to the fore – either a Peoples Vote with Remain on the ballot or a beefed up Political Declaration which safeguards our status within the Single Market and the Customs Union.

The sequencing is complex, and twists and turns will be aplenty, but we can still be hopeful a way out of this Brexit mess is still possible.

A version of this article appeared in today’s Western Mail newspaper.

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