Daily Telegraph: I cannot vote for the Chequers deal when WTO terms offer a better Brexit

Following the publication of the Government’s Brexit white paper, it is now clear the Chequers agreement cannot deliver the clear Conservative manifesto pledge to leave the single market, the customs union and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in anything but name. The return of control, as David Davis said, “is more illusory than real.”

The agreement would oblige the UK and the EU to adopt a “common rulebook” for trade in goods. All trade deals require some kind of agreement on standards, but this is different. The so-called “common” rules are, in fact, the EU’s rules and cover all the laws concerning goods in the single market.

So “common”, apparently, means the UK having to obey all the laws promulgated by the EU over a wide area, whilst having lost the ability to vote on those laws in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

We are told that Parliament will have the ability to reject further changes to EU law, yet the statement also says that the UK will “commit by treaty to ongoing harmonisation” in areas covered by the EU rulebook. Parliament’s supposed independence comes on the condition that the EU can impose “consequences” should MPs ever have the temerity to exercise this theoretical right, leaving us as a permanent rule-taking supplicant without any practical chance of amendment.

Clearly, the Chequers proposal falls a long way short of a clean, free-trading BrexitWe have just passed the Withdrawal Act to end the supremacy of EU law in the UK by repealing the European Communities Act and repatriate the existing acquis under the control of Parliament. Were Parliament now to vote for the Chequers agreement, it would be voting positively to hand back to Brussels all control over the rules covering trade in goods.

As well as regulating much of the domestic economy, the proposals would require the UK to apply EU rules to imports from third countries, severely hindering our ability to forge new trading relationships around the world and to deliver the benefits of lowering prices for all consumers.

Being bound by the common rulebook would mean that we could not enter “mutual recognition agreements”, accepting goods from trading partners which satisfied their own safety laws if they diverged at all from EU laws. The US Ambassador has already warned that the possibility of a US-UK trade deal is “totally up in the air” on the basis of the Prime Minister’s current course.

Perhaps worst of all, the oversight for these rules seems to have been granted entirely to the European Court. The Government claims that its “joint reference” plan adheres to the principle that “the court of one party cannot resolve disputes between the two”; this is a hollow promise owing to the complete asymmetry in the current proposals.

Clearly, the Chequers proposal falls a long way short of a clean, free-trading Brexit with which the UK takes back control of our money, laws and borders as promised in the Conservative manifesto.

Compare that to the misnamed “no deal” option: World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms . As a full member of the WTO in our own right, we would have the power to vote on global regulations as well as to initiate new standards and propose amendments to existing ones alongside our allies. We would begin to use the vast amounts of money which we send to the EU on our own priorities, withdrawing our offer of a £39 billion “divorce bill”.

Recognising that 90 per cent of economic growth over the next decade will be outside the EU, we would negotiate free trade deals with many countries around the world who seek freer trade with the UK. We would set our own regulatory framework, tailored to the needs of 100 per cent of our economy, not just the 12 per cent involved in exports to the EU. We could pass our own, democratically-accountable laws to meet our own priorities and our own requirements.

My criterion is simple: unless the Government’s proposal is better than WTO terms, I will vote against itThe benefits of this bold new approach would be significant. The costs of EU regulation are felt throughout the economy – by 100 per cent of consumers – and we could commit to lowering their costs and improving their living standards by using our freedom to remove tariffs. This, many senior economists predict, would reduce consumer costs by eight per cent. With the latest ONS figures putting the average weekly household bill at £554.20, that means an annual saving of £2,300 per household.

Conforming to the clear promises of the Conservative manifesto – to leave the single market, the customs union and the jurisdiction of the European Court – must be the simple standard against which any final settlement is judged.

The Government has repeatedly told us that it believes “no deal is better than a bad deal.” Having now shown us what a bad deal looks like, the Prime Minister must quickly ramp up preparations for moving to WTO terms or face the catastrophic damage to our democratic institutions that would ensue on failing to deliver the biggest mandate that the British people have ever given.

The EU Withdrawal Act means European law will cease to apply to the UK on exit day. Under the Chequers agreement, the Government will have to reinstate large chunks of EU law and Parliament will have to vote on it. My criterion is simple: unless the Government’s proposal is better than WTO terms, I will vote against it.

To read EFT Adviser Owen Paterson’s piece for the Daily Telegraph in full, click here.

sign up to our Newsletter