Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy.
A fresh rumour gathers strength in Brussels. People who had lost hope, in the EU itself and (it is said) some member states, have started to think that Brexit could be defeated. I use the word advisedly: not stopped — defeated. They hope for a long extension, enough for another referendum in which, they imagine, anti-Brexit forces would be successful.
Nothing will have pleased them more than Geoffrey Cox’s legal opinion that any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement the Prime Minister negotiated to the withdrawal agreement were cosmetic. In law, Cox was right. The agreement was not renegotiated. As Gil Scot Heron might have put it:
“You will not be able to amend, brother
You will not be able to seek new alternative arrangements
You will not be able to lose yourself in arbitratino
Skip out below a Unilateral Declaration
Because the agreement will not be reneogiated.”
The reasons the agreement will not be changed provide the honourable case for Brexit. This is an argument stripped of scare stories about straight bananas or unelected bureaucrats who turn out on closer inspection to be elected parliamentarians.
The honourable Brexit cause doesn’t need to drum up fears of a unitary superstate. Even the hybrid form of government into which the EU is evolving is not something it thinks Britain should be part of. We have our own history, looking outward across the seas to the island chain of our formal colonies to which we sent millions of emigrants – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, and from which, research from the Henry Jackson Society has found, the British would be happy to accept increase immigration.
And I’m sure this is the Brexit that my Brexiteer friends wanted when they campaigned to leave. They want a free and independent Britain making its own way in the world again. They didn´t think this country a mean-spirited nation unable to absorb newcomers, whov’ve done so much to make the country what it is. They don’t want to withdraw from the West: Britain’s strong armed forces should be a pillar of the alliance system. These are all honourable goals, and this Brexit is an honourable cause.
Yet if the EU is a political union, and Britain to be outside it, that changes the balance of power on our continent. A single economic superpower about the same size as the United States, with Britain to one side. A single entity capable of defending its interests, and those of its members against countries, like the UK, that have chosen to be on the outside. These are the consequences of leaving. Don’t think, as Remainers often do, that the EU is nice.
Honour knows that actions have consequences, and it’s necessary to bear them. This includes the reversal of the traditional balance of power between Ireland and the UK. This will have effects on Northern Ireland’s future. In finance, technology, and defence procurement, Europe’s rules will be set by the EU’s members and not by Britain. That’s the consequence of leaving — the price of freedom if you will.
Because honourable countries face up to the consequences of their actions. They don’t, like dilatory schoolboys late with their essays, simply ask for more time. A short extension to Article 50 won’t serve any purpose whatsoever; while a long one, which the EU would only grant to hold a referendum, risks Brexit’s defeat.
Parliament however is in dilatory schoolboy mode. It voted today on a motion to propose the oxymoronic “managed no deal”. It voted on a “standstill agreement” that the EU will not accept. It may eventually vote on whether to have a referendum, but only after the withdrawal agreement has been gone through. It may also vote on whether to pursue a Norway-style Soft Brexit, even though that requires the deal that it has just rejected to be approved. It may also vote for an essay extension. What unites them all is that they avoid the choice on offer: this deal, No Deal, or No Brexit.
And Parliament, having voted on Tuesday against the deal a second time, today voted against no deal and against no Brexit too. Having eliminated all other options, we’ll be exactly back to where we started: trying to Brexit without accepting the consequences of Brexit is the only thing that can command a consensus across the Commons.
Parliament seems unable to adjust itself to the central fact of a Brexit deal: it needs to be agreed with the EU, and the EU won’t agree anything that doesn’t involve Britain taking the consequences of its own decision to leave. The fact is that the deal on the table, which allows for a wide variety of outcomes to be negotiated over the next four years, is as good as it’s going to get. If you want to leave the EU, take this deal ,and start shaping Britain’s new phase of independence. Give yourselves a Brexit with honour. If you don´t, you could end up with a long extentsion and another referendum. If that happens, they’ll be cheering in Brussels, not Britain.