Our Party member readers are not exactly a committed band of EU-enthusiasts (and nor for that matter are the rest of our readers). Over two in three of the former were for Brexit during the EU referendum, with another one in ten leaning that way. Over one in three opposed paying a penny more than £20 billion in any settlement. Almost two in three wanted ECJ jurisdiction to end before we have left the EU de facto – i.e: before the end of any implementation or transition period. Over two in five want to see a start made during it in the reduction of EU migration. Almost nine in ten want to see the Government free to sign trade deals with non-EU countries during it. And the number who want to see Britain follow a Canada-style route post-Brexit is almost double the number of those who want to see it take a Swiss-type one. For details, see here.
It is in that light that one should view our regular panel’s thumping endorsement of the deal that Theresa May signed last week. Given the differences among centre-right strategists and writers about it – to Matthew Elliot it is “superb news”; to Charles Moore a “complete capitulation” – the question of why Party members are less divided, if our panel is anything to go by, is obviously a compelling one. (And we point out again that YouGov polling earlier this year suggested that it is a useful barometer).
Your guess is as good as ours. It may be that the acquiescence of Conservative MPs, and the public backing of the deal by Michael Gove yesterday morning, has influenced our respondents. Perhaps they think the Prime Minister gained more on the swings of the negotiation than she lost on the roundabouts. Maybe while Party members don’t like elements of the deal very much, their main emotional reaction to it is simply relief that trade talks are set to begin.
Our panel may also think that while red lines have certainly been blurred, they have not been crossed. Our courts will retain the final say on EU nationals, though they must have “due regard” for the ECJ’s view for eight years. The money is somewhere between the £20 billion offered at the time of Florence and the £60 billion that probably represented the EU’s opening bid.
Above all, the agreement on the UK-Ireland land border looks like a classic Anglo-Irish nonsense. It hinges on “full alignment” with the Single Market and Customs Union if no final agreement can be found. But “full alignment” is not “full regulatory alignment” which, as Gisela Stuart wrote on this site on Friday, has a precise legal meaning (at least to the EU). However, there seems to be no agreement about what “full alignment” means. This is doubtless why it was introduced into the deal’s text in the first place.
Finally, Michael Gove wrote in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, apparently with Downing Street’s blessing, that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. Other senior Government sources take the same view. The only logical conclusion one can drawn is that the “full alignment” section of the deal, like all other hedges in it against no final agreement, both applies and does not apply!
In Tom Stoppard’s Hapgood, a physicist describes an experiment in which particles are shot like bullets through two slits in a screen. If one doesn’t look, “each bullet goes through both slits” (however hard this may be to believe). But if one does look, “none go through both slits”. The observer determines the result.
Welcome to the Stoppardian world of last week’s UK-EU deal. You get what you look for. If you want to find a sell-out, you’ll find one. If you want to find a diplomatic coup, you’ll find one too. Perhaps the most persuasive explanation of all for our finding is that most of our panel members are looking for neither, and are simply thankful, as we say, that the first stage of these talks is (fingers crossed) over.
Finally, we’re grateful to panel members for responding so quickly. Some 1320 replies in just over a day is an impressive return rate; last month’s full survey return was about 1370. We may try the question on them again next weekend.