The UK has hoisted its white flag
The fight for our brave, strong nation was abandoned in this draft Withdrawal Agreement and generations will look back on it with disappointment, writes Suella Braverman
My resignation from the government last week did not fill me with glee. It was never part of the plan. I never thought that I would find myself unable to support the government’s policy. But at least I can look my constituents in the eye. I can tell them the truth. We have surrendered so much that the deal on the table no longer resembles what the country voted for in 2016.
My reasons for such an about-turn are simple. Firstly, the Northern Irish backstop is not Brexit. It prevents an unequivocal exit from a customs union with the EU. This robs the UK of the main competitive advantage from Brexit. Without a unilateral right to terminate or a definite time limit to the backstop, our many promises to leave the customs union will be broken.
While I accept that we do not plan to use the backstop, there is nonetheless a worryingly strong possibility that it could come into effect, judging by the slow progress that the EU makes in agreeing free trade agreements, the lack of incentive for the EU to make such swift progress with the UK and the absence of any serious consequences for the EU for failing to make sufficient progress on the future economic partnership. And with the EU negotiators making it clear that the backstop is to form the starting point for the future economic partnership, my worst fears are confirmed.
Some 17.4 million people voted for the UK to leave the European Union in our own sovereign way and at a time of our choosing. The backstop renders this impossible and generations of people will look back on it as betrayal.
Secondly, the proposals in the Northern Ireland backstop set out different regulatory regimes for Northern Ireland and Great Britain threatening the precious union and fuelling the fire of Scottish Nationalist calls for a second independence referendum.
While I entirely understand the complexities of this issue, I am confident – having met with customs professionals in my role at DEXEU – that such a break-up of the union could have been avoided with the use of pre-border checks, technology and exemptions for the vast majority of small traders who operate at the Northern Irish border. Sadly, the Northern Irish border has been confected into a ‘problem’ rather than an opportunity. Only the historians will know whether it was by design or incompetence.
Compromise is necessary in negotiations. But there comes a point where compromise becomes a white flag. With an uncertain end to the customs union and the breakup of the union, the UK has hoisted its white flag. The fight for our brave, strong nation was abandoned in this draft Withdrawal Agreement and generations will look back on it with the disappointment that comes with having missed a magnificent opportunity.
I am grateful for having had the opportunity to serve in government. As a lawyer, I have an unshakeable conviction that leaving the jurisdiction of the ECJ and restoring sovereignty to our domestic world-class legal system is in the best interests of our country. As a Conservative, I am inspired by the freedoms and economic opportunities from an independent trade policy. And as a democrat, I believe that we must not let the people down. Sadly, this deal achieves none of this.
Suella Braverman is Conservative MP for Fareham and a former minister in the Department for Exiting the EU