May’s Brexit deal is the best the Tory party can produce, but there are better options for for the country

The Guardian recently offered an interactive tool which allowed readers to guess how many votes May’s deal would get in the House of Commons. (Apologies that I cannot find the link to the tool at the moment).

I had a fiddle around with the tool. What was astonishing is that whatever way one tweaked the tool, May was about 50-60 votes short of a majority. The basic problem is that there is a chunk of Tories, and probably DUP members, who will vote against the deal. The only way to make up the shortfall caused by those votes against, is for Labour MPs to vote in droves for the deal. That is not going to happen.

So May’s deal is the deadest of dead ducks.

The Clerk of the House of Commons has said that a motion of the House of Commons on the deal could be ignored by the government (unlike actual legislative votes which the government cannot ignore).

But I don’t see the government ignoring the Commons on such an important and historic vote.

So where does this leave us?

Well, I still see that there is some mileage in some permutation of EEA/EFTA/A or the customs union getting through Parliament. Some form of Swiss or Scandinavian model.

The trouble is that Theresa May foolishly ruled out, in red, customs union and/or single market membership and has been bending over backwards ever since trying to square the circle to get a deal that keeps businesses/Ireland running while keeping her party united.

The circle cannot be squared. There is no Brexit deal that the Tory government can get through the Commons without compromising to get Labour MPs on board.

By the way, I note that John McDonnell is all for a customs union solution. Also, there are a whole raft of Tories (such as William Hague (Lords), Nick Boles, Nicky Morgan and Michael Gove) In favour of trying an EEA/EFTA solution.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Catherine Jane Crosland 19th Nov '18 - 10:25am

    Something like the “Norway model” or the “Swiss model” might seem like a sensible compromise.
    But are we sure this is something that the EU would agree to? It sounds as if the EU are saying now that it would be this deal or no deal.

  • jayne mansfield 19th Nov '18 - 11:01am

    @ Catherine Jany Crosland,

    I think many who oppose the deal, including those in Mrs May’s cabinet who want to renegotiate parts of the negotiation are probably whistling in the wind.

    When David Cameron brought back the results of his attempt to renegotiate our relationship with the EU, some members of the EU thought that the EU had made too many concessions. And yet, there is this belief that having chosen to leave the ‘club’ remaining club members will now make even greater concessions than those granted in the latest lengthy negotiations.

    A major issue during the last ‘peoples vote’ was immigration. In today’s Daily Mail Mrs May is arguing that the deal will deliver on immigration, we will have a say on who can come to this country. She is saying OK, we didn’t get this or that, but the major concern for many who voted Brexit will be met. Clever politics whether one agrees with her or not.

  • jayne mansfield 19th Nov '18 - 11:23am

    @ Catherine Jane Crosland,
    Apologies for mis-typing your name.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 19th Nov '18 - 11:33am

    That’s ok Jayne 🙂
    I haven’t seen the article in the Daily Mail, but from what you say it sounds as if Theresa May is ignoring the many Leave voters who voted for reasons which had nothing to do with immigration. Some, like Giles Fraser, the Guardian Columnist, wanted more immigration rather than less. They just objected to the fact that the current system discriminates against people from outside the EU.

  • If anyone wants to know who and what is driving through this awful Brexit bill that will, in my humble opinion, make this country both poorer and less influential, should read Ian Birrells article in today’s “I” newspaper. We should be supporting another referendum on EU membership even if there is no chance of achieving in the present environment. We have to be consistent or we are nothing the time for compromise may arrive but at moment we need to stand together.

  • Barry, there is no alternative to a Referendum, it will be held in February 2019, the result will be decisive, one way or the other, thereby acceptable to almost everyone, then we can all shut up and get on with running the country.
    Quiz for today Lib Dems who?

  • Laurence Cox 19th Nov '18 - 12:43pm

    What makes the current situation even more complicated is that Corbyn is not committing himself to Remain if there is another referendum. Will Labour voters support Remain if their Party leader comes out for Leave?

    The only way forward that I can see that gets us to another referendum after the defeat of May’s plan is a vote of no-confidence in the May Government (which in practice would have to come from the SNP as the third party because of the tribalism associated with the Tories and Labour) followed by the formation of a National Government from moderate Labour and pro-european Tory MPs with support from ourselves and the SNP. The National Government would pass the necessary legislation for a binding second referendum with Remain as one option. I don’t doubt that the EU27 would accept this and extend Article 50; £350 million a week is not something you would turn down lightly. If the country votes to Remain the National Government would only need to remain in power long enough to reverse the Brexit legislation and to reinstate the status quo. At that point we need another General Election (and the Tory Party a new leader to fight it).

  • In reply to Catherine and Jayne, many Leave voters say that they were primarily motivated by the overriding issue of national sovereignty rather than purely by a desire to reduce EU immigration. However, far from “taking back control”, Mrs May’s deal would leave the U.K. locked into a halfway house for an indefinite period – as a rule taker, not a rule maker. This democratic deficit is also the major flaw with an EEA/EFTA solution, Paul and Catherine. Whilst this would deliver the economic benefits of frictionless trade, we would still lose all the other benefits that we currently enjoy as full members of the EU. As an EEA/EFTA member, but outside the political institutions of the EU, the UK would remain bound by all the rules of the single market and customs union, but with no influence and no vote on those rules – a massive surrender of our existing sovereignty (which is pooled with that of other EU member states).

    Any changed future relationship between the U.K. and the EU is bound to involve compromises and trade-offs. It should therefore have been clear from the outset that there is no ideal form of Brexit which “keeps businesses/Ireland running” (as Paul puts it) and also satisfies the entire wish-list of Leave supporters.

    It is equally clear that there is no Commons majority for the Government’s “deal” or for “no deal” – and, regardless of any democratic arguments for or against government by referenda, it is now becoming increasingly obvious that the only way to break the impasse at Westminster is through a People’s Vote on the terms of Brexit which includes the option to remain in the EU. The potential routes to another referendum are, as yet, somewhat unclear – perhaps our MPs are giving active thought to this, together with those in other parties who are also campaigning for a People’s Vote (let’s hope so anyway!), but Laurence suggests an interesting possible way forward …

  • Sandra Hammett 19th Nov '18 - 1:42pm

    My guess, frankly what else is there to do, is that Michael Gove will win the argument, ‘vote for Theresa’s deal in the short term, adjust it at a later date, play the long game or risk a Comrade Corbyn government’.
    Theresa May has only lasted this long because her competition, and that includes the LD, are so weak and disorganised. With so many variables in play, Brexit vs party loyalty etc, Gove’s plan of One Hurdle At a Time is much more likely to win over others than Rees-Mogg’s Waste Time and Wait It Out ploy.

  • Peter Hirst 19th Nov '18 - 2:04pm

    So what will our PM do if she fails to get a parliamentary majority for her deal? She might go back to Brussels and pretend to get a better deal. The eu might help in her in this, wanting to end this sitcom. I suspect she might resign and see what happens. The Tories are quite capable of coming up with a plot that exits us from an eu and bolsters their poll ratings.

  • Jayne Mansfield 19th Nov '18 - 2:35pm

    @ Sean Hagan,

    ‘People’s stated reasons for voting leave or remain’. Centre for social Investigation (25.4. 2018).

    I think that you may find its findings interesting. I did.

    Perhaps remainers are from Mars and leavers are from Venus, or vice versa, when understanding each other and motivation for voting as they did. And yet, it was so important to understand the other side’s reasoning and motivation and focus one’s arguments on those to win people over.

  • @ Jayne Mansfield – thanks for pointing me to these research findings; very interesting reading. One of the key findings was that Remain supporters significantly under-estimate the importance that Leave supporters attach to the EU having no continuing role in U.K. law-making. This Is consistent with the point that I was making in the opening sentence of my previous comment when I refer to such voters being “primarily motivated by the overriding issue of national sovereignty rather than purely by a desire to reduce EU immigration”.

  • Bill le Breton 19th Nov '18 - 4:52pm

    The present draft Withdrawal Agreement is a stepping stone to an EEA solution or even a Canadian free trade solution (more Liberal than the EU tariff regime) . Or a Jersey solution or some combination of these.

    There is scope for only one extension to the Transitional Arrangements in the WA, which proves that the EU does not want us to remain half in and half out – enjoying trade with them without tariffs, so let’s not be scared by the stories of endless purgatory.

    Both Norway (a member of the EEA) and Switzerland are not members of the Customs Union (note this about Norway, Sean Hagan, EEA but not CU). Borders with their EU neighbours are relatively permeable.

    Once we sign this WA the EU cannot stop us becoming a Non-EU EEA member. In fact the WA reads like an invitation to take that route. The other non-EU EEA countries could but why would they not want us?

    Norway is signed up to just 25% of the EU acquis. It includes provisions for a free movement break. Norway is consulted on new regs. The EU of 27 would want to ‘persuade’ the fifth largest economy, and a main target for their trade, to sign up to new initiatives – i.e meaningful consultation is in the interests of the EU27.

    The only rule taking in the WA is on employment and environmental standards. Were Liberals hoping to break these? The WA draws the teeth of neo-liberals. And frustrates Corbyn.

    The WA avoids any chance of No Deal. It also avoids the risks of Parliament being seen to have frustrated the will of the public (2016). It avoids the risk of a bitter referendum campaign or mass abstentions. It avoids the risk of losing a second referendum.

    Finally it allows us to fight the next general election of a platform of rejoining the EU.

  • jayne mansfield 19th Nov '18 - 5:09pm

    @ Sean Hagan,
    Yes, and I would not argue that immigration was the only factor that led people to vote leave, just a major one.

    As the author of the report points out there are methodological limitations to the findings, but it is enlightening never the less. I would like to know what EU laws the leavers object to, and whether they were actually EU laws. I would also like to know whether such laws that the EU passed affecting the UK, were deemed beneficial to the elector or worked against personal interest. These are the questions I would ask individual electors as an opening in a discussion about our differences.

    In any attempt to change the views of the leavers among the electorate, and prior to the hopes of another referendum by remainers, have any lessons been learned?

    At this moment, I do not see another referendum settling anything. The polling figures aren’t that great.

  • Steve Comer 20th Nov '18 - 4:03pm

    I think the UK would be accepted as a member of EFTA/EEA, but as Norway has made clear, only as a permanent member, not on the “for now” model proposed by Nick Boles and other. Of course Free Movement of Workers is part of that, but the numbers of migrants from the EU wishing to come here is dropping and will drop further in the post-Brexit recession.

    It is unlikely that the May/Barnier deal as it stands would get approved by the Commons (at least not the first time it is tabled). Equally I can’t see a People’s Vote amendment being carried, it needs too many Tory MPs to support it, and even if Labour also do there are some in their ranks like Hoey, Stringer, Mann etc who are totally anti-EU and would vote against. But there is a head of steam behind PV, and it does need to be tabled. We have to be seen to try to get a public vote.

    If those who support a People’s Vote would also get behind the amendment (likely to be tabled by Keir Stramer) specifically ruling out a no deal Brexit that would help a lot.
    With that carried here are then only two options available:
    1) The EFTA/EEA option or
    2) A slightly tweaked May/Barnier deal. This would the same basic deal by but with some “clarifications” or “side letters” to cover specific points. (Eg. on the Irish border there could be some statement about how “our joint aim is to work hard ensure we have the technological solutions in place to ensure the backstop will not need to be enacted.)” UK and EU Civil Servants have decades of experience in drawing up ‘forms of words’ to get out of difficulty, and I don’t doubt they could do so with this.

  • Guy Inchbald 20th Nov '18 - 8:12pm

    Permanent membership of EFTA/EEA is the right way to go. EU rules forbid us from opening negotiations until after we officially leave it. My fear is that the present government will leave the EU with a permanent right to veto such a move. My hope is that the next government will apply to EFTA as a matter of extreme urgency. How about getting it into our next Party manifesto?

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