The news on Friday that Theresa May had struck a “deal” with the EU Commission was welcome.
Certainly, its language was an improvement on the draft which we saw on Monday and the Government has clearly managed to move the Commission some way.
The agreement allows the talks to move forward. It does not set in stone any terms of the final Brexit arrangement.
There are, however, obvious causes for concern.
The continued oversight of the European Court of Justice in the UK is not good.
It is standard practice across the world for the courts of countries in an international treaty to pay attention to the judgments of their partners, and to try, if possible, to apply a consistent interpretation.
That poses no problem, but the idea that EU citizens in the UK should be “protected” by the ECJ would be a bizarre situation, creating a privileged class of 3 million people whose rights in this country would be enforced by a court beyond the influence of our Government and Parliament.
The question of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland has dominated the headlines in recent days, so it was particularly good to see confirmed what many of us have been arguing for some time: there is no need for a “hard” border and avoiding one is entirely possible with new technology and goodwill which should exist on both sides.
Paragraph 45 of the agreement clearly states that the UK is leaving both the Single Market and the Customs Union. Too many Establishment figures – from senior civil servants to the EU-funded CBI – still cannot accept this.
To understand the scale of the problem, look at the CBI’s President Paul Dreschler, who absurdly called Brexit “the most serious issue any country in the world has ever had to face”.
More serious, he claims, than the Reformation, the English Civil War, the Great Plague, Stalin’s purges, the Cuban Missile Crisis…
At best, they see our leaving as a problem to be solved rather than an opportunity to be grasped, and at worst something they reject outright.
They narrow-mindedly focus on our trade with Europe, but ignore the massive gains that can be made from expanding our trade in a changing economic world.
In 1999, 61 per cent of UK goods exports were with the EU, now they are 43 per cent. By 2025, it has been projected that they will account for under 35 per cent.
The European Commission itself says that 90 per cent of global economic growth in the next 10-15 years is expected to be generated outside Europe, a third of it in China alone.
Those who would now cling gloomily to the status quo would deny us the key benefits of expanding free trade – lowering the price of food, clothing and footwear for all consumers – preferring instead to stifle new competition and enterprise.
Paragraph 45’s clarity is welcome, but Paragraph 49 states that the UK will maintain “full alignment” with their rules to support North-South co-operation on the island of Ireland in the absence of agreed solutions.
We cannot allow “alignment” to be interpreted as shackling our whole domestic economy with the rules of the Single Market (exports to which account for only 12 per cent of our GDP) and having us effectively inside the Customs Union.
Such an outcome would leave us without control either of our borders or our trade. It could not possibly be consistent with the outcome of the referendum.
The Government must now make the exciting case that only after we leave both the Single Market and Customs Union can we take full advantage of Brexit; Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the United States and others will be watching the negotiations closely, knowing that they will only be able to do deals with a fully independent United Kingdom.
The UK’s position is strong, and the speed with which the Commission moved this week showed their willingness to make concessions.
Our net contribution to the EU budget has been over £180 billion – the second biggest in the bloc. Ending those contributions is clearly a major cause of European concern.
As we move ahead, we work on the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
So, if the EU wants our cash, it must talk seriously about a comprehensive reciprocal free-trade deal with zero tariffs.
If not, we must be prepared to walk away, paying not a penny more than we legally owe (remember that the House of Lords found that we would be subject to no enforceable contributions at all) and advancing our global trade talks. For us, the WTO option means taking back control of our laws, money and borders and making no further contributions to the EU budget.
A good deal needs to be better than this, or the Government’s principle – no deal is better than a bad deal – should apply.