The big news this week is British government’s new proposal for a deal. The plan is essentially Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement including a transition period but also, importantly, a revised Irish backstop. In the new backstop Northern Ireland would leave the EU Customs Union but remain in alignment with EU standards on goods. The rest of the UK would leave the customs union and single market meaning that Northern Ireland is treated differently.
The offer has the blessing of the DUP who have moved a long way by agreeing checks on goods at the Irish sea – something for which they are receiving heavy criticism within Northern Ireland. The damage done to the Good Friday Agreement by imposing EU regulations on Northern Ireland is mitigated by ensuring that Northern Ireland continued to have a say in whether these arrangements were introduced and continued. BfB argued long ago that this was a fundamental matter of human rights, guaranteed by the European Convention.
The proposal seems likely to be able to command a majority in parliament. The EU and Ireland, however, are unimpressed. Which may be doing us all a favour, given the excessively long ‘transition period’ on which Johnson’s deal relies. It looks highly unlikely that a new deal will be agreed by 31 October.
Which leaves us with the riddle of the Benn Act. Can the government legally circumvent it and prevent another Brexit extension? Boris Johnson’s team seems confident that it can. Once again, however, the question has been taken before the courts, by MPs disingenuously claiming to be protecting the rule of law, while trampling on centuries constitutional precedent.
This ridiculous situation once again brings to mind the works of George Orwell, who has much to teach us about the present turmoil. In today’s Newspeak, democracy is invoked by those obstructing it; the majority view is labelled ‘extremist’; and people habitually using hate-filled, sensationalist or demeaning language label their opponents’ plain speaking as ‘violent’.
A textbook example of Newspeak is the recent Supreme Court judgment, which unravels as fast as one reads it. It revolves round Brexit while denying it does so, breaches the constitution while claiming to defend it, and proclaims itself non-political while taking a fundamentally political stance.
Policy Exchange has published an excellent report by Professor John Finnis FBA QC (Hon) on the unconstitutionality of the Supreme Court judgement, which cuts through these linguistic abuses and lays bare the innovations and questionable reasoning underpinning the Court’s judgement:
“Our constitutional law has always (partly under the influence of [the 1689 Bill of Rights,] art. 9) distinguished firmly between legal rules (justiciable) and conventions (non-justiciable). The Judgment offers no plausible reason for transferring the conventions about prorogation into the domain of justiciable law.”
In other interesting reports this week, Open Europe have published a useful 90-page document entitled “No Deal and how the Government should respond”
This week, we at BfB have taken the Brexit Pledge. Nothing to do with teetotalism, don’t worry. The Pledge states: “I call on my MP to deliver an immediate Brexit, with or without a deal, regaining control over our trade, fishing, farming, services, defence, borders, taxes, foreign policy, law and regulation.” We will be sending out a special announcement about the Pledge soon, but we encourage those already keen to take the Pledge themselves here.
Meanwhile, BfB co-editor Graham Gudgin has given interviews to the Norwegian press and to the online magazine, Spiked. The Spiked interview, entitled ‘There’s nothing complex about the Irish border’, discusses the ease with which technology could be used to solve the Irish border – if EU negotiators wanted it to:
“Technologically, it’s old hat. It is not new technology… Customs brokers from the Netherlands, for instance, say it’s close to what they already do if they’re selling a consignment from Rotterdam to Zurich, which is outside the EU… I have also been working with Swedish and Dutch customs experts and they just keep saying all the time: this is fine, this is how it should be done, and this is more and more how customs is done around the world.”
The Spiked interview attracted some exciting Twitter attention when it was retweeted by Steve Baker MP. The retweet has since gone viral, with over 1000 retweets and 2500 ‘favourites’ at the time of writing.
Graham also look part in Al Jazeera’s ‘Head to Head’ programme, filmed at the Oxford Union. The video will be going out worldwide soon. He also discussed Boris Johnson’s efforts to get a Brexit deal on France24’s English-language programme, ‘The Debate’, on Wednesday evening.
On the website this week
The Transition Period. A Bad Idea, by Titus
The deal announced by Boris Johnson at the Conservative Party Conference is built around a transition period potentially lasting until 2022. Our contributor ‘Titus’, a young academic who needs to remain anonymous, argues that a transition period is the worst part of any deal.
“The truth is that, in a crowded field, the stand-still Transition is the worst example of EU hostility and aggression towards Brexit Britain.”
The claim that referendums are an imported species in the British constitution has been often repeated over the past three years, but too little interrogated. It has thus become all too easy to claim that referendums are incompatible with our representative democracy, and that the result of a referendum in no way binds MPs, who should instead decide the matter according to their conscience. Dr Bryn Harris, a member of Lawyers for Britain, argues that this is wrong in principle and harmful in its outcome.
“[Remainers’] claim to be defending the status quo against some perverse constitutional innovation is meritless. Referendums were until recently largely uncontroversial.”
Debunking the myths of Brexit ‘disaster capitalism’, by Julian Jessop
Independent economist Julian Jessop debunks the myths that Brexit policy is being driven by a cabal of hedge funds, dodgy corporations and tax avoiders. These myths turn out to be no more than vague insinuations and desperate mudslinging in the hope that some might stick.
“The proliferation of daft conspiracy theories has been one of the more depressing features of the painful process of leaving the EU.”
A Delinquent Parliament Begets the Rule of Lawyers, by Peter Ramsay
Peter Ramsay, Professor of Law at the London School of Economics, argues that the Supreme Court’s judgment is partisan to the point of being economical with the truth. More profoundly, its constitutional assumptions are those of a member-state of the EU rather than sovereign nation state: MPs and top judges are trying to consolidate a new post-democratic constitution in line with EU norms. This article was originally published by The Full Brexit.
“Brexit, if it happens, will not be the end of the struggle for popular sovereignty. It will be the beginning.”
Two Letters from Boris Johnson to Jean-Claude Juncker, by Briefings for Brexit
Parliament has dictated a letter that Boris Johnson is required to send to Mr Juncker. We thought we would join in the game and provide another letter that we suggest the Prime Minister could send him at the same time.
“Attached to this letter is a text that the United Kingdom parliament has by a formal legislative Act required me to send to you. It will not have escaped you that this law is an apparent breach of the European Convention of Human Rights, which guarantees free expression, and is thus of doubtful validity.”
On “Two Letters from Boris Johnson to Jean-Claude Juncker”, by Robert Harneis
Robert Harneis, Strasbourg Correspondent of the Diplomatic Observer, suggests that there are several more problems with the Benn Act not mentioned in BfB’s proposed letter from Boris Johnson to Jean-Claude Juncker.
“[The Benn] Act contradicts itself. It requires the Prime Minister to seek an extension. The Prime Minister is not ‘Her Majesty’s Government’… The cabinet could take the view and likely does, that he should not seek an extension. It is they that could inform Juncker that the PM does not speak for HMG.”
We are also on Twitter, posting articles and retweeting the daily events that bring Brexit to the fore in the national news. You can see the excitement of Steve Baker MP helping BfB co-editor Graham Gudgin go viral here.
Discussion continues on Facebook too. Bob Mowle enjoyed Julian Jessop’s rebuttal of ‘disaster capitalist’ myths, describing it as “another great objective analysis.”
How you can help
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An Oxbridge PhD Student
Dr Graham Gudgin
Economist, Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School University of Cambridge
Professor Robert Tombs
Emeritus Professor of French History, University of Cambridge