How nice to see Dominic Raab finally trying to do an honest day’s work!
And how unfortunate for him that his attempt to present the Brexit White Paper to Parliament was undermined by his incompetent failure to actually provide it to MPs before doing so – compounded by the fact that the press had already been given prior access to it!
The result was an ill-humoured suspension of proceedings while Commons Speaker John Bercow forced Mr Raab to accept that MPs should be given copies of the paper before he proceeded.
It set the tone for the day – because the White Paper itself is a series of concessions and capitulations to the EU27 that will be unpalatable to both Leavers, who want to be free of EU rules altogether, and Remainers, who will see no point in adhering to EU laws without any input into them.
A principle bone of contention is Theresa May’s “facilitated customs arrangement” (FCA), which would see all imported goods charged the UK tariff at the border, keeping Brexiteers happy, rather than the EU rate as in the “new customs partnership”. Goods would be tracked, and if they were sent on to the continent, they would be charged the EU tariff with money passed on to Brussels.
It means the UK can sign trade deals with other countries in which it promises to lower tariffs, but Britain would still promise not to deviate from EU standards, so we could not change regulations as part of any trade deal.
There is no guarantee that the EU27 would agree to such a deal – and in any case they will not accept the claim that the UK will not honour its £39 billion exit payment if it doesn’t get a good trade agreement; their argument is that the exit payment covers financial commitments already made by the UK, and is not a payment for a good trade deal.
But hard-Brexiters like Jacob Rees-Mogg have already made their opposition clear.
They are lodging “wrecking” amendments to the Trade Bill that would enshrine the policy into law, blocking the government from keeping one foot in the EU customs union for goods, and preventing a proposed ‘backstop’ solution for the Irish border from creating an internal trade boundary in the Irish Sea.
But their amendments will not have the support of enough Parliamentarians to make any difference – other than showing us the weakness of their position. If they get only around 30 supporters, they will have cemented their own position as nothing more than a sideshow.
Still, Mr Rees-Mogg’s own statement on the White Paper makes some very clear points:
“This paper sets out that the UK will be subject to EU laws while having no say in their creation. The common rulebook will not be common it will be EU law, interpreted by the EU Court with the UK subjected to EU fines for non-compliance.
“The UK has accepted it cannot diverge from ‘ongoing harmonisation’ without activating repercussions for Northern Ireland. In effect, parliament will have no say over future EU laws implemented in the UK.
“The UK has accepted that it will collect and hand over EU taxes. This is an unwarranted intrusion into the control of our border. The absence of reciprocity is concerning and the cost to the taxpayer unknown.”
And then there is end of free movement – for some, but not others.
Among those who will still be able to move freely between the EU27 and the UK, under the terms of the White Paper, are students. As Theresa May has consistently refused to remove foreign students – who are only temporarily UK residents – from immigration figures, this means the UK will continue to demonstrate high immigration after Brexit, despite the fact that one of the stated purposes of leaving the EU was reducing these statistics.
Also able to travel into the UK without visas under the terms of the White Paper would be EU tourists and temporary workers, and there should be “reciprocal arrangements” for businesses to move “their talented people” into and out of the EU.
Critics have said this means the EU27 would continue to have preferential access to the UK and it is hard to argue against that.
The White Paper received an almost-entirely sceptical or hostile reception from Conservative MPs. Along with opposition from Labour and the other parties in Parliament (other than, we imagine, the Tory-bribed DUP), it seems unlikely that any of its measures will survive Parliamentary scrutiny.
Mr Raab, speaking prior to today’s Parliamentary session, said critics of the White Paper should put up a credible alternative or shut up. An alternative – I’m not prepared to say it’s creditable – has already been published by former Brexit Secretary David Davis.
And Labour doesn’t have to do anything. Brexit is entirely owned by the Conservative Party and is for the Tories to mess up.
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