Observations of an ex pat: The re-United Kingdom

Britain is a United Kingdom again. After more than two years of divisive vitriolic debate it has emerged upon the sunny upland plain of total agreement.

Soon the British public will be treated to the sight of former bitter enemies Boris Johnson, Vince Cable and Jacob Rees-Mogg joining hands to skip gaily into the Commons division lobby. Nigel Farage and Bob Geldof may soon embrace on the banks of the Thames.

Fathers and sons who have scowled at each other for two years will again smile across the breakfast table. Mothers and daughters will cheerfully gossip over a steaming cuppa and the pubs will enjoy a booming trade as stalled friendships are renewed over a pint—or two.

Prime Minister Theresa May has succeeded in uniting the British people against the common enemy—Herself.

Brexiteers and Remainers who only yesterday were at each other’s throats have turned as one to sink the political axe firmly into the back of their prime minister and her draft Brexit deal with the EU.

 It took less than 24 hours for Dominic Raab– the man Mrs May placed in charge of Brexit negotiations—to resign. He refused to allow his name to be associated with the agreement. He was preceded by the junior minister for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara. At least nine other cabinet ministers are known to oppose the deal and it is quite possible that there could be more resignations before I finish this piece.

Wait, here comes another one, the resignation of Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey has just popped up on my screen. The prime minister will need a political miracle to win parliamentary approval for her deal. Voting against her will be the Labour Party, the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, her some time allies in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, a fistful of former cabinet ministers and a large number of disgruntled backbench Tory MPs.

Mrs May is on record as saying : “Leave means leave” and “no deal is better than a bad deal.” In the eyes of both Remainers and Brexiteers the deal the prime minister has struck results in leave means remain without any say in the construction of Europe’s rules and regulations. This a worst deal rather than a mere bad deal and the prospect of much vaunted global trade deals to replace commerce with Europe has flown out the window.

Here are the bones: Divorce bill of £39 billion; transition period of 21 months to give businesses a steep downhill slope exit rather than a cliff edge; transition may be extended if jointly agreed; a trade deal to be hammered out during the transition period; EU citizens currently In the UK can remain and work and bring their relatives; Brits in Europe can do the same but uncertain about whether they can cross borders; the rulings of the European Court of Justice have the force of law during the transition period, including new judgments; the transition period can be extended indefinitely but Britain would have to pay for the privilege and fishing rights remain unresolved.

Then there is sticky problem of Ireland which has bedevilled these negotiations as it has British history for centuries. Both sides were keen to avoid a north-south hard border which could spark a return to “The Troubles.” The result is that during the transition period—or extended transition period—all of the UK will remain in the customs Union. Northern Ireland will remain in it afterwards with additional ties to Europe. Furthermore, an agreement on ending the customs union will be a joint decision between the EU and UK. Britain cannot unilaterally decide to leave the customs union. Its future will be decided by Brussels.

This result was inevitable.  The Brexiteers entered these negotiations without a clear goal, divided and with an exaggerated sense of their importance. Britain is paying the price and will remain divided.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • David Becket 16th Nov '18 - 10:01am

    On summing up the failures of the Tory and Labour parties today the “I” concludes “A curse on your houses. This country and its people deserve better”.
    We demand better. It is time to remind the electorate that, whilst we did not get everything right, we gave you stable government during a period of great financial uncertainty. We gave you better.

  • It is very uncharitable to portray our PM as a common enemy, and I speak as a Remainer LibDem member. She has, at great cost to herself, tried to formulate an agreement with the EU to honour the result of the referendum. Let’s face it — the other negotiators were rubbish! The fact that the end-product may be no good is a useful discovery as we go forward. Another referendum is not the answer though — two wrongs do not make a right as far as this dreadful referendum process is concerned (‘Bowl me another ball, please — that one doesn’t count — I didn’t see it!’). Parliament got us into the mess and Parliament must get us out of it. There is no possibility of negotiating a better deal, so Parliament must find a way of voting between Remain, Accept the deal, and Leave with no deal. With enough common sense and cross-party co-operation Remain should be the outcome.

  • nigel hunter 16th Nov '18 - 11:28am

    First thought .David Beckets comments should be put on all our focus leaflets!! (If that is ok)

  • Sorry — that weary old LibDem phrase ‘a curse on (both) your houses’ has been tried before and found wanting. It is smug and in terms of the real politics we now face absolutely useless! Put ot on our Focus laeaflets? Yea — a fat lot of good that will do!

  • Christopher Haigh 16th Nov '18 - 11:54am

    There is a sinister organisation within the Tory party called the European Reform Group which is presumably coordinating a hatchet job on Mrs May. As for the Labour Party their ‘six points’ for accepting the deal are virtually unachievable given that Mrs May has had to negotiate a Brexit. As David Beckett rightly says the stability of the Coalition is looking like Halcyon days.

  • William Fowler 16th Nov '18 - 12:21pm

    The deal is about what you would expect from the EU given the Irish border issues, if it fails in parliament then hopefully the next step will be second people’s vote, the choice between no deal and staying in. As Sir Vince says himself, Mrs May has done as well as can be expected given the hand she had to play. Ken Clarke reckons Mrs May will be backed by ninety percent of the Tory party if a confidence vote happens so things still have to play out. The Labour party wants mass confiscation of business wealth so they can not be in the single market let alone the EU, not sure about the CU (a majority of Labour MPs may have different views, vote accordingly). The LibDems are wedded to open immigration so have no leverage to get a better deal from EU. Nigel Farage popped up on the TV full of rage but seems somehow diminished by the distance from reality of all the fake promises he made. Is there any party actually worth voting for left?

  • Yeovil Yokel 16th Nov '18 - 2:33pm

    ‘European Reform Group’ seems like a strange name for a bunch of devious EU-phobes.

  • As William Fowler suggests, the deal is a reflection of the need to keep an open border in Ireland. Every time someone says “but we voted to leave the customs union” just ask them what they plan to do about the Irish border. The best you will get is some sci-if stuff about drones tracking lorries. More likely just a blank stare.
    The Irish border problem was predictable from day one but the level of ignorance on the mainland is so profound. No one seems to remember the troubles, even the Rt Hon Karen Bradley, whose ignorance of recent Northern Irish history is a matter of record.

  • Peter Martin 16th Nov '18 - 3:37pm

    @ Yeovil Yokel,

    I don’t share the views of the Tory right but they have their democratic right to want to “reform” Europe in their chosen way.

    Quite a few years ago now, when I was at school, we regularly had to do what were termed ‘English Comprehension’ exercises. They’ve probably fallen out of favour in the meantime, but they were useful. I remember being taught that we should interpret the text as it was written and not how we thought it should have been written.

    In this case, your mistake is to think it should have been written ‘European Union Reform Group’. The European Union is not Europe.

  • If we are talking about the ERG that Jacob Rees-Mogg is chair of – it is actually the European RESEARCH group.

  • Christopher Haigh 16th Nov '18 - 4:37pm

    Yes thanks Michael 1 sorry t o get its name wrong. It’s sort of an internal Tory UKIP.

  • @Peter Martin
    I’m confused here. Are you talking about the ERG (Ree Smogg etc.)
    In which case it’s the European ‘Research’ Group which is paid for by subscriptions from MP’s,, claimed back on expenses which you and I pick up the tab for. About £2000.00 p.a. I seem to remember seeing.

  • Yeovil Yokel 16th Nov '18 - 8:05pm

    ‘European Research Group’ is even more of a misnomer. “Research”? ‘We Loathe EU’ would be pithier and more accurate. John Major used a term to describe these odious Parliamentarians, but I can’t readily recall it.

  • Peter Martin 16th Nov '18 - 8:10pm


    Yes you’re right. R is for research rather than reform. But maybe reform would be a more worthy aim?

    Whether the £2k should be regarded as a legitimate expense is a matter of opinion. I’m not sure. I’d have to look at the rules and what else is allowable.

  • It is interesting that a few people who do not care what they say are setting the agenda for the discussion over our relationship to the European Union. One thing that the Prime Minister was right about was that no one else is putting forward concrete proposals on what to do now. She has very carefully set a timetable which ensures that hers is the only plan available, and there is no time to develop a new one.
    All this has been obvious for over a year. So why are cabinet members resigning now? Did they pay any attention at all to what was going on?
    What is need is a plan from someone – anyone – which gives an alternative taking into account the timescale.
    We won’t get one of course. But the pantomime will continue. We are moving towards Christmas after all. In the meanwhile the need to deal with the problems of the many struggling people in our country is being ignored.
    Oh well, bring on the clowns.

  • Sue Sutherland 17th Nov '18 - 1:45pm

    I agree with David Becket that we should be highlighting the stability we gave the country during Coalition during the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. In comparison the Tories, left to their own devices, have created chaos with Brexit. Even the UN poverty inspector has said that Univeral Credit was a good idea and that it’s the incompetent and mean way the Tories have implemented it that has caused such harm to the poorest in our society.
    I was unhappy with some of the things we did in Coalition but that pales into insignificance when you think of what the Tories have done to the country in order to appease a few selfish wealthy people who want even more power and riches.

  • Sue Sutherland 17th Nov '18 - 1:50pm

    Sorry forgot to say I think it’s time for us to say that a good Brexit isn’t possible, that we want a vote on the terms but we as a party think it’ll be bad for the country to carry on with this nightmare. We will offer people a better life by staying in the EU and fight for our United Kingdom to be a leader in Europe once again.

  • John Marriott 17th Nov '18 - 5:28pm

    I see that the main brexiteers still left in the cabinet are pressing the PM to see if they can tweak the ‘deal’ before she meets the EU. Now, if they succeed and the EU agrees and if those 48 letters fail to materialise (and, even if they do and she survives of vote of no confidence), what’s not to stop a ‘deal’ gaining traction at Westminster?

    Let us not forget that, however you crunch the figures, there is no massive majority either for remain or leave, unless you reckon that most of the 27%, who failed to vote in 2016 are basically happy with the status quo. So, a deal which offers a breathing space, which would allow our major industries an admittedly steep slope rather than a cliff edge to negotiate might not be so bad after all.

    You could, of course, still campaign for another referendum and see if the EU would allow us to withdraw Article 50 to allow this to happen. But what about the EU parliamentary elections? I gather that the UK’s seats have already been redistributed. Should we ask for these elections to be delayed until we know the result? Now that’s another example of our wanting our cake and eating it! Quite frankly, now the Brexit genie has been let out of the bottle, we shall really struggle to put him back again.

  • Peter Hirst 19th Nov '18 - 1:31pm

    I can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel yet and we’re almost at HS2 speed. It will take more than another referendum to re-unite the country. Some respect for the other side’s view might help. We need to come out of this with our dignity intact, some semblance of unity and a long-term strategy for our country. Winning euro 2020 would help.

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