Coming into the weekend I was ready to write a review of the agreement that was struck by the Cabinet at Chequers, but given the events in last couple of days, all my work has been thrown out of the window. While there are suggestions that there will be a leadership challenge by the Brexiteers and ERG against Mrs. May, I have gone through many rewrites with the constantly changing news, I have currently just given up on trying to write something that is fully up to date and just express my views on the agreement at Chequers, which was the original plan; I can then at the end express why I believe that some members have resigned over the issue.
The first major issue that arises is the free trade area of goods, which is essentially a pillar for a free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU. While a FTA for goods is possible in theory, as there are certain goods that are allowed in and out, but for across the board? That just looks like cherry picking one section of the single market, which has already been vetoed by the EU. While it is possible in theory, I do not think that the EU would agree to this, without forcing further concessions into the single market. Nor does it make sense that this will avoid friction at the border as the document later goes on to end free movement. How does one plan to uphold the common travel area and not allow free movement of people; unless there is a divide at sea, given that a physical border in Ireland is a no go? While that is plausible, it would create an internal border inside the United Kingdom; which will not be acceptable to the Unionists in Northern Ireland nor would it be acceptable for the hard-line Brexiteers.
Looking at the next point about the common rulebook for all goods including agri-food seems to out of place of the comments made by the Prime Minister as she said that we are leaving the common agriculture policy; while the policy is complicated, what is meant by this phrase is not well explained. While we are expecting a white paper on this, seeing language like this would unlikely garner support from the entire Conservative Party, which would require the Government to look across the benches to the opposition. An odd situation, but let us be honest; nothing has been conventional in this process.
This unconventional process an been seen in the proposal for what can only be described as fluff. The notion that either side wishes to have less open economies (or promote closed economies) is just laughable, regardless of which side of the argument you fall on. The differences lie in what should be freely traded, which seems to be as much as possible. The problem that this position relies on almost full co-operation between the two sides, but why would EU agree to bind itself to the UK’s decision or take note of the UK’s position; as they have no requirement to place UK interests over its own members. This also seems to hinder both sides when re-evaluating what deal they wish to strike with other nations, as for a deal to be made with any third-country, each side would be restricted. While for the alignment argument this makes sense, but then what are the benefits to leaving the EU while fully aligning? It doesn’t make any sense. Why create more hassle? By just creating a new system to fulfil the results of an advisory referendum is just nonsense. It would more sense to ignore the referendum or go the whole nine yards, the middle ground doesn’t make anyone happy, nor does it help anyone. What is the gain? While one may point to the potential gains to services, it does remove any chance to negotiate on goods as a carrot to a third country. While possible, would it not be better to have a veto in the EU, when it came to new trade agreements and new policy proposals? I would think so.
The legal framework in the application and interpretation of the UK-EU agreement, is not helpful. Well in the form that it has been described at least. The UK has paid due concern to EU case law (when applying EU law) and to continue this is not a differing system. The concern of disputes is more interesting and thus concerning; with the lack of detail. I’m going to speculate that an EFTA court solution is what will arise from this, but I do not see the EFTA members being happy if the actual EFTA court is used; thus, a new separate UK-EU court of arbitration committee being set-up. However, with such little information: we will have to wait and see.
The final item about the new facilitated customs arrangement, makes little sense to me. While it works for the island of Great Britain, the tariff policy for Northern Ireland vs the Republic of Ireland seems to be open to abuse. If I can take goods across the border without checks, why wouldn’t I choose the cheapest one and then just cross the border. While one can mitigate this by checking shops and more monitoring systems, it would be a costly solution, while relying on the trust system. We should also be asking what percentage of failures (goods not checked, that has the wrong tariff applied) is acceptable, if any? This all relies on the EU accepting this agreement as well. At the moment, I cannot see this being accepted by the EU. With the backstop, there may be no actual cliff-edge if the negotiations take too long; but there is no backstop for a rejection of the proposal.
The resignation of the two prominent Brexiteers in the cabinet are not a tandem to bring down Mrs May, though Mr Johnson’s resignation is a ploy for power in the future. David Davis has clearly resigned for the change of style in negotiations by Mrs May. Mrs May has decided to try and bypass the EU infrastructure with direct talks with the head of States. I doubt that this will work, given the Commission leading the negotiations for the Member States and having EU law on their side with the notion subsidiarity when dealing with future of the Union. With this plan, Mr Davis’s role in leading the Department for Exiting the European Union and being the head negotiator is no longer the case. Instead of becoming a middleman like his successor, Dominic Raab. His plan to to leave the department is to ensure that the leadership of the department fully believes in the plan, instead of someone just following a plan. Personally, I find this quite a sensible move by Mr Davis. The headline resignation was, and still is, Mr Johnson’s sudden change of heart. While I believe that Mr Johnson shares some of my criticism (if not all), there is a clear political motivation for Mr Johnson to distance himself from the plan. In doing so, he won’t alienate himself from the Tory base and can criticise the plan without having to come up with a solid plan himself. It would be a shrewd move, if wasn’t blatantly obvious to anyone who has spent more than ten minutes listening to all the regular political commentators.
While it is true that this is a negotiation and thus the proposal is not final. What lies ahead for both sides, be it the argument or UK/EU, there is a lot more to be done with far too little time. With ongoing pantomime in Parliament, I would be ready to expect the unexpected.