The vision for our global future outside of the EU and the ‘equal partnership’ for the post-Brexit UK-EU relationship which you spoke of in your Lancaster House speech was one which was widely endorsed and brought the country together. It was a blueprint for national renewal and future prosperity which was also endorsed by the public in our manifesto in the 2017 General Election.
Since then, we all know how hard you have worked in negotiating with Europe over the last two years. We do not doubt the sincerity with which you have approached this challenging and unprecedented situation.
But while respecting your efforts, we have grave concerns that your proposal does not take back control of our borders our money and our laws; does not permit us to negotiate new trade deals with the rest of the world; and does not safeguard our own precious United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland would be required to be in a deeper customs union with Brussels. Its people and businesses would be subject to single market rules and regulations, putting Northern Ireland into a different position to the rest of the United Kingdom. This endangers our precious Union.
The Northern Irish people would be bound by EU law - enforced by the European Court - without having a say over the rules that govern them. That is profoundly undemocratic and the changed status of Northern Ireland would be a clear breach of the Belfast Agreement’s Principle of Consent.
The Agreement compels Britain to be required to be in a customs union with the EU by way of the “backstop”. This means that we would be unable to vary our tariffs or strike trade deals with countries like the USA, our biggest trading partner, our friends in the Commonwealth and growing markets across the world. In addition we would be required to stick to the EU’s “level playing field” rules, making us unable to make the UK more economically dynamic and competitive.
Under the “single customs territory”, we would be forced to agree to every change that the EU decides to make to its rules and regulations in the future while being excluded from any role in making these decisions.
Being unable to leave the customs union without the EU’s permission would place the UK into a legal black hole. This is unprecedented in international treaty law.
It’s appalling that we are prepared to sign up to the backstop.
The Chancellor has said the backstop would be terrible for our country, you have said it is highly unlikely we will make use of it, the EU don’t want us in it and Ireland has said that whatever happens, there won’t be a hard border.
So why is it in the Withdrawal Agreement? If no one is prepared to use it then we should just get rid of it and agree a simple procedure that keeps the borders open. As long as the backstop is in the Withdrawal Agreement we will be trapped and our negotiation on the future relationship we be all one way to the EU.
The proposed deal would also cost British taxpayers at least £39billion – in excess of £1,400 per household - with mechanisms in the Agreement which could cause that to increase. This eye-watering sum is paid without any guarantee of a trade deal. It would be in our national interest as a bare minimum to insist on a legally binding trade deal before we part with taxpayers’ hard-earned money.
Finally, we are alarmed by the one-sided outcome of the negotiation and the great disparity in what the EU has achieved compared to what the UK Government has. Everything we were seeking from the negotiation has been put into a “Political Declaration” that does not have the legal effect of a binding treaty and gives us no firm guarantees. Everything the EU has been seeking from the negotiation can be found in the Withdrawal Agreement – a carefully crafted, legally enforceable international treaty which we won’t be able to back out of.
To rebalance the proposals, we should insist that the Political Declaration is expanded into legally binding form before 29 March 2019 with clear guarantees securing our negotiating objectives. And it should come with a backstop that ensures that no payments are made unless or until the future relationship is in legally binding treaty form and real progress is made delivering it. Payment by results.
Our grave doubts about this proposal are shared across the House of Commons by members of all parties. By continuing to pursue it - when it is plain that it does not have enough votes to carry it through the House of Commons - you are making a “no deal” scenario more likely.
The “no deal” situation will involve some element of risk, challenge and short-term disruption - just as the historic vote to leave in 2016 did. But we still believe, as you once did, that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. It is better than a deal which would cost our country £39billion and hand the EU the keys to our destiny.
A trade agreement with the EU would naturally be better still. We have long argued that we should be taking up the offer – offered by the EU itself – for us to explore a Canada-style free trade deal.
There is still time to revisit this and we should be using this time productively rather than pushing your proposal through a House of Commons which will undoubtedly move to block it. As we have chosen to trigger Article 50, the Government’s current approach is only increasing uncertainty for consumers and businesses and making the position of a “no deal” much more likely once we reach 29 March next year.
We hope that you can think again.
Iain Duncan Smith is the Conservative MP for Chingford
David Davis is the Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden
Owen Paterson is the Conservative MP for North Shropshire
Priti Patel is the Conservative MP for Witham
Jacob Rees-Mogg is the Conservative MP for North East Somerset
John Whittingdale is the Conservative MP for Maldon