Theresa May has been making a habit of saying different things – sometimes diametrically opposite things – to different people in her increasingly strident attempts to bludgeon down resistance against her toxic Withdrawal Agreement. To Remainers she has been saying that voting against her deal will lead to a no-deal exit; while at the same time telling Brexit supporters that voting against her deal will lead to no Brexit, or at least to a long extension.
The latest example of this kind of tactic came when it was reported in The Times on Friday 5th April that “Senior ministers told their Labour counterparts yesterday that Theresa May’s Brexit deal with the European Union already includes a customs union ‘in all but name’.”
This is the very same deal which Theresa May has spent the last few months assuring Brexit supporters would not require the UK to be in a customs union with the EU and would allow the UK to pursue an independent trade policy.
It is this persistent but transparent duplicity – transparent in the sense that a two-year old child could see through it – which has destroyed the credibility of the Prime Minister and eliminated any trust in her on the part of her country, her party, or for that matter the EU leaders with whom she tries to negotiate.
So which is right? In this instance of the customs union and her deal, what senior ministers told the Labour Party is true and what the Government has been telling Conservatives and Brexit supporters is not. As I explain here, the backstop Protocol is a customs union, so if we cannot do a long-term deal with the EU, then we will automatically fall into it and will be stuck there until the EU lets us out. And the Political Declaration which sets out certain aspects of our long-term relationship requires the UK to submit to a customs arrangement built on the backstop, and rules out a conventional Canada-style Free Trade Agreement. Moreover, the legal linkage between the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration means that the EU will be legally entitled to require the UK to enter the backstop and stay there indefinitely if the UK tries to secure a long term agreement which departs from the Political Declaration.
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