After all the noise and bluster about what a strong negotiator he is, Johnson has actually caved in and agreed to something that Theresa May refused.
The situation appears to be as follows:
- There will be custom checks on goods moving between the rest of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.
- Northern Ireland is magically to follow EU regulations and UK regulations despite the fact that these will increasingly differ.
- Theresa May’s guarantee that workers’ rights and environmental regulations would be at least as good as those in the EU has been ripped up and there is nothing to stop a race to the bottom.
- This is not actually a deal. It is an agreement that there will be some sort of deal by the end of 2020. Until then the UK will simply follow rules it no longer plays any role in making. Afterwards there is no certainty of the arrangements. The final deal on services is particularly unclear.
For the neglected regions of the UK this means almost the exact opposite of what they hoped for when they voted to leave. Instead of being protected from the impact of the decline of manufacturing industries and years of austerity they get a fresh kick of free market competition wiping out even more industries.
For UK farmers fed up with EU regulations this also means the exact opposite of what significant numbers of them hoped for when they voted leave. They get fierce new competition from New Zealand lamb and US chemical soaked and battery farmed food imports.
For the rest of us it effectively means an end to sovereignty as we become something less than just another US state.
After all the noise and bluster it turns out that Johnson knew as well as everyone else that no deal wasn’t better than a bad deal. What is astonishing is quite how bad the deal he has negotiated is.
All of which appears to leave Parliament with a horrible dilemma. Either they vote through a deal that is much worse than one they have rejected three times or they are faced with Johnson trying to land them with the blame if no extension is granted and we leave the EU without a deal.
We are about to witness utter hypocrisy from the far right. Until a couple of weeks ago it was a red line for all hard Brexit folks that there would never be a customs border between England and Northern Ireland. Now that some of them have got cabinet jobs that is exactly what they are signing up for. Their friends in the DUP have been dumped unceremoniously in return for ditching all previous commitments about worker’s rights and getting out of the EU before its new tax controls come into force.
From the some in the Labour party we are about to witness equal hypocrisy. After months of telling us they would only vote for a deal that protected their constituents they are about to abandon their principles and vote for a deal that crushes the rights of those constituents and leaves them at the mercy of a future US trade deal.
With only days to go every effort is being made to create an atmosphere of inevitability that this must go through. Most people are utterly bored and exhausted by the constant talk about technicalities that they have little interest in. That means Parliament faces a storm of criticism if it doesn’t simply roll over and let this fudge drift through.
Yet if it does then Parliament risks losing all authority. It will have allowed itself to be fooled and bullied by a Prime Minister that holds its decisions in contempt. That liar and cheat will be able to go before the British public before any of the damage he has caused has hit home and claim a great victory. We’ll then have a General Election fought on exactly the ground that he wants in the middle of a mood of national relief and gratitude that nothing much actually appears to have happened and it is all OK.
The reality is that this deal is not OK. It is not remotely OK. It can be made to look OK for just long enough to get past an election that could deliver a majority for Johnson and a Parliament cowed, beaten and powerless to resist the nasty stage when the unequal trade deal with the US gets signed.
The most realistic way out of this mess if for Parliament to show some backbone and refuse to be fooled. They must insist that the deal goes before the public so that they can finish what they started. Having voted for wild promises we must now be allowed a vote on whether we like the actual deal.
A second referendum gives the public a couple of months in which the actual deal can be analysed and explored and all the faults with it properly examined. Under that kind of scrutiny this deal is going to really struggle to stand up. There is every prospect that the EU will grant an extension for that purpose and if they don’t article 50 could be temporarily revoked.
It is, of course, more than possible that the public will once again vote to leave the EU. It is also possible that they won’t be fooled again. The choice is, however, quite simple. Either leave Boris Johnson with a squalid victory or take him on and stand a chance of exposing the incompetence, the bluster and the fudge. I know which one I prefer.
No Brexit is better than a bad deal.