Thursday, 9 August 2018

A letter to the PM - When All Trust is Lost

"Chequers will always be seen as a failure - but the way in which it was delivered is where the terminal damage has been done. As such, I cannot support your proposal as all trust has been lost."

All 'Civil Servant' and no 'DExEU'

The Letter

It's safe to say that the PM has over-promised and under-delivered when it comes to Brexit. It doesn't take yet another blog post on the matter to break down the detail as to why the Chequers proposal is such as disheartening episode in modern UK politics. Broken promises, loose interpretations and supine pandering to both the EU negotiators and everyone who lost in the 2016 referendum only scratches the surface. The public reaction has not been the resounding success that the spin machine at Number 10 would have wanted. Rather than a bold and decisive move forward to grease the rusted gears of the negotiation, it has been viewed as a cold execution of those with ambitions to get the UK anything but BRINO.

As the right-wing press rightly ridiculed May's efforts to deceive the public into thinking we were properly leaving, she hurriedly issued a letter through CCHQ to party members, hoping to drum up support for the farcical Chequers proposal. Having received my own copy of the letter today, I felt compelled to respond. Not to point out the technical inaccuracies and shortcomings of her assertions (others can do that much better) but to emphasise that for the electorate to compromise and follow her vision takes trust - a commodity which her recent machiavellian schemes have all but boiled away.

The Reply

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
c/o – Conservative Campaign Headquarters
4 Matthew Parker Street

9 August 2018

Dear Prime Minister,

RE: Your letter dated 3 August 18 – Chequers Proposal

I was grateful to receive your correspondence attempting to reassure members that the Chequers proposal was a good deal for the UK.

I’m sorry to say that I don’t agree with the upbeat assessment of what the proposal will deliver.

It is clear that a common rule-book for goods means the UK accepting EU regulation in a unidirectional manner. It is nice to know that the UK will reserve the ability to have the final decision whether to implement or not, but the implications of rejection are not clear. Needless to say, a parliament which is reluctant to properly implement the 2016 referendum result, backed by 17.4 million people, will not find it within themselves to resist piecemeal application of EU law or regulation in any capacity. To paraphrase - the will of the people to resist Brussels resides within the demos and not within Westminster.

This ‘common rule-book’ (read: large chunks of the EU Acquis) will apply across UK manufacturing regardless as to whether businesses intend to export to the EU or not. I suspect the alignment will not end there. A bizarre situation for a so called independent nation to be in which I can only imagine will generate a whole series of impediments to our global trade ambitions.

As for the Facilitated Customs Arrangement (FCA) which gets little mention in your letter - the proposal appears to be asking for a combined customs territory with the power to apply tariffs based on the ultimate destination, with the EU 27 having to adopt the same. This feels like a ham-fisted and demanding reaction to the NI border situation which the EU appear to be wielding, with some relish, like a weapon.

As an alternative, I think there would be wide-spread support for an FTA with a more pragmatic Max-fac solution to the NI border issue, even if that means an extension to existing the Customs Union whilst we implement. For whatever reason, this option appears to be being resisted.

Not being decisive at this point means that the political conflict that has enveloped the country for years now will continue ad nauseam. Brexiteers will never be able to say that a truly independent vision was ever properly tested. Remainers will be able to claim that danger was always around the corner and that we were never big enough to go it alone. It is a mistake because, in the eyes of the public, nothing has been settled and we’ve wasted an opportunity to end the argument with proper certainty.

My concerns now lie with the legal text we’ll agree within the Withdrawal Agreement later this year. Commitment to pay 39 billion pounds for anything less than a full trade agreement (such as a framework which defines little but a vague commitment) and legal inclusion of the NI backstop, risking dividing the UK or locking us into the Customs Union, would turn a bad story into a nightmare situation. One which would inevitably result in increased demands to validate whether it’s worth us leaving by virtue of another referendum.

All this is well and good and much of it academic, but the real issue with Chequers is the story that it tells the public about the inner workings of government - and by reference, what the government thinks about the people. Like the phrase or not, Dominic Cummings was right to crystallise the Vote Leave campaign around the slogan ‘Take Back Control’ - which I see the government have co-opted recently. The irony in this is that whereas Cummings was reinforcing the importance of people and their relationship to parliament, you as Prime Minister chose to reject the efforts of DExEU, headed up by the elected and accountable - in preference for the unelected mandarins of Whitehall. Clearly, one of the key messages that the Brexit vote delivered has not sunk in at number 10.

Furthermore, the way in which the Chequers proposal was foisted on DExEU at the last moment could suggest intent to deceive both Leave voting ministers in parliament and also those that voted Leave in the villages, towns and cities across the UK. We believed that we had taken back control - but once the ‘Potemkin’ facade of the DExEU was pulled down, we realised we had none.

To see Olly Robbins rather than David Davis sitting around the table at Le Fort de Bregancon is disheartening, but much as Robbins has become totemic with this sad story, ultimate responsibility lies at the door of 10 Downing Street. Chequers will always be seen as a failure - but the way in which it was delivered is where the terminal damage has been done. As such, I cannot support your proposal as all trust has been lost.

Your sincerely

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