The British people have spoken and Parliament has legislated. Some 17.4million people voted to leave the EU and MPs voted overwhelmingly - by 498 to 114 - to bring the referendum result about.
But in all four corners of the land a tale is being told about a once proud nation that ignored the biggest act of democracy in its history and which agreed to the terms of the Prime Minister’s EU deal.
“There’s no money left!” a UK trade negotiator exclaimed. The deal forced the UK to give £39billion to the EU without securing anything in return. “Weren’t we supposed to be saving it so we could use it to negotiate a UK-EU trade deal?” another exclaimed.
But the UK had done something even more bizarre by signing up to the EU’s ‘backstop’ - a black hole it would be plunged into if the EU and UK couldn’t agree a trade deal. It prevents the UK from striking trade deals and makes it an EU satellite state, forced to obey EU law without having a say, until the EU allowed it to leave.
“So if we say no to anything, they can just threaten to put us in the backstop indefinitely,” the lead negotiator concluded. “Do we have anything up our sleeves?”
Their sleeves were empty. Having lost all leverage, our trade negotiators were taken hostage from the start - incapable of saying no to the EU’s whims for fear of being cast off into the ghastly backstop.
And that was how the Spanish reclaimed Gibraltar, why the French could access UK fishing waters, why we had to trade away our fortunes and how we managed to diminish ourselves immeasurably on the world stage.
This deal is not just a capitulation. It’s a decapitation. If we’re not careful, this is exactly the fate that could befall our great nation.
I’m convinced that those who have negotiated the deal have been acting in good faith and have always had the UK’s best interests at heart. But they are running scared because they’ve been taken in by two deceptions.
First, they believe the UK is under a legal obligation to pay £39billion to the EU. They are wrong. There is no enforceable legal obligation to make the UK pay any of it.
Second, they think that unless we sign the Prime Minister’s deal we’ll have a hard border in Ireland. But the UK government has said that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, there would be no need to establish physical infrastructure on the Irish border. Former Northern Ireland secretaries Owen Paterson and Theresa Villiers have stated that there is no need for one. The heads of both the British and Irish customs authorities, Jean-Claude Juncker, Leo Varadkar, the Prime Minister, the DUP and David Trimble – the Nobel Peace Prize winner and architect of the Peace Process – have all said that a hard border is not necessary.
Even the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said he is “convinced that it is possible to carry out the kind of checks we need without creating a physical frontier”. If the UK, Ireland and EU have all given assurances that they will not introduce infrastructure or checks on the border, why should we agree to the damaging backstop which can be used to beat us about during trade talks?
2019 should be the year that we finally become – once again – a proud, independent, self-governing nation – freed from the shackles of the EU. We should be matching the spirit of hope and optimism voters showed in 2016. EU deal or WTO deal, we are leaving the EU at 11pm on 29 March 2019 and it will be a pivotal moment in our history.
The UK’s first working day post-Brexit will be Monday 1 April – April Fools’ Day. If we leave with this deal, we, our children and grandchildren will be treated as fools for evermore.
Maria Caulfield is the Conservative MP for Lewes