While the personality politics plays out among the Westminster drama kings, I have been taking a bit of a gander at the draft withdrawal agreement. People have been calling it Mrs May’s deal, but it isn’t really. Credit is not due to May, this has been thrashed out by Sabine Weyand and Olly Robbins plus a team of lawyers on each side. It strikes me that this is the Weyand deal more than anyone else’s.
There has been a lot of histrionics by people who haven’t read it about how much of a vassal state it leaves us in. Frankly they are kinda right. This isn’t a great deal when measured by the level of autonomous dickery that our government would be able to get up to during the duration of the standstill period. We can’t have a bonfire of regulations, we can’t deport EU nationals en-mass, we can’t go full socialist and do masses of state aid (though we can nationalise things, which we always could).
I don’t really want the UK to do any of that, I want things to muddle onwards with the state providing useful infrastructure and getting out of the way. If we measure the deal not by autonomy of government, but by impact on the people we get a somewhat different view.
- This deal means people in the UK and EU27 have enough food.
- This deal means people in the UK and EU27 have access to medication.
- This deal means people working in cross border supply chains have jobs.
- This deal means that cross border families don’t have their freedom of movement withdrawn.
- This deal means that Northern Ireland has a solution that can work for a while.
Overall, on a pragmatic level this is a functional withdrawal agreement. We stop taking part in the institutions of the EU, but nobody gets hurt while we negotiate some kind of free trade agreement that allows more autonomy for the government to do whatever it wants in future for reasons that have never been adequately explained.
It is OK. I am not going to be jumping up and down and proclaiming that it is better than being a normal EU member state because it is not. It puts us in a very weak position for future negotiations, but that was always an inevitable feature of Brexit. Given that the leave vote is still pretty strong I don’t think we have a viable Remain option. This isn’t the best way to leave, but it is the way we are leaving. The alternative is a disorderly departure, which could get exceptionally hostile. Nobody wants that.