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The Backstop Is Not Optional

backstop not optional

Mrs May has been trying to win support for her Withdrawal Agreement by falsely claiming that the backstop is optional and that the UK could decide whether or not to trigger it. “If we get to the point where it might be needed, we have a choice as to what we do, so we don’t even have to go into the backstop at that point.” This is absolutely untrue and flatly contradicts what is actually written in the Withdrawal Agreement. Has the Prime Minister even read it?

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The Withdrawal Agreement ‘backstop’ keeps the entire UK in a customs union with the EU. It obliges us to set EU tariffs on goods imported to the UK and follow the EU’s trade policy with no say at all, implement EU regulations on state aid (thereby surrendering control of our agriculture), bring in a carbon tax, promise not to compete with the EU, and promise to negotiate the EU’s right to free access to our fisheries.

It puts a border in the Irish Sea, hiving off Northern Ireland as an EU-run protectorate. Both the UK and Northern Ireland will be subject to the rulings of an unelected EU-dominated Joint Committee which can only settle disputes by referring them to the ECJ. It is the Joint Committee alone which can decide whether we leave the backstop.

But there doesn’t need to be a decision by the Joint Committee to ‘trigger’ the backstop, let alone ask Parliament about it. The backstop will kick in automatically if there is no ratified trade agreement with the EU in place by December 2020. This is a virtual impossibility, as May and the EU know perfectly well. The backstop will start at the end of the transition period if we have not signed a (very bad) ‘deal’ with Brussels. And once we are in the backstop, we cannot leave without permission from the EU and Dublin unless we have signed a (very bad) ‘deal’ with Brussels. It is a lose-lose trap.

Government spokespersons are putting it around that it will be quite possible to negotiate an alternative to the backstop, but luckily a large number of Tory MPs are not falling for this deception. If an alternative to the backstop was negotiable why on earth has it not already been negotiated or at least clearly indicated in the Future Arrangements document which was published alongside the Withdrawal Agreement?

The Irish have already got everything they have been planning for over the last two years. They will not allow any weakening of the Northern Ireland arrangement without an almighty fight. The EU Commission has already staked the Agreement on demonstrating its full backing for the stated interests of a small EU state. The message going out loud and clear to Greeks, Hungarians and others is that you are stronger with us than without us. A failure to stick with something close to the current arrangement would count as a defeat for them and will be avoided. With the WA, EU states will also have given themselves a hamper of trade advantages to blackmail the UK. The UK is much more likely to lose ground than to gain it in any post-WA negotiations.

May is now saying she is listening to MPs about a parliamentary lock to ‘trigger the backstop’. That option is not even available in the absence of a trigger mechanism. Adding both a trigger and a parliamentary lock requires renegotiation. And Mrs May and the EU are adamant that there can be no renegotiation. MPs must not fall for this deceit. The Withdrawal Agreement in its entirety is an assault on our democratic freedoms and an economic and political straitjacket. If it is passed there is no way out, as the Attorney General’s advice made clear.

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