The gallimaufry of stories about Boris Johnson obscured the presence of those on other matters in yesterday’s papers. And their absence.
Journalists were briefed last week to expect a major publication from the European Reform Group setting out a case for a Canada Plus Plus Plus Brexit deal. ConservativeHome is told that the MPs who have worked on it over the summer included John Redwood, Bernard Jenkin and Owen Paterson, who has charge of a chapter on Northern Ireland.
It was also claimed separately that David Davis is working on his own Canada Plus Plus Plus scheme, and is planning to deliver a major speech outlining it on Wednesday. Tracking the comings and goings of the Brexiteering enterprises is a tricky business – a bit like trying to track the Lost Boys, pirates, mermaids and so on across Neverland – so here is our rough guide to some of the main developments.
First, there is the ERG paper. It reportedly proposes to use the £40 billion or so that wouldn’t be paid to the EU if there is no deal for other purposes. Unsurprisingly, these include the NHS and tax cuts. More eye-grabbingly, they also feature a rapid-reaction military force and a nuclear missile shield – which some readers will remember first labelled “star wars” during the Ronald Reagan years.
At any rate, the paper was pulled, with Jacob Rees-Mogg describing it as “an early draft”. We don’t dissent from the view that the star wars plan, and perhaps the military section, would have exposed the ERG to counter-attack from Remainers, which doubtless helps to explain why the group’s plans were changed late.
Second, there is Johnson himself. It was claimed over the weekend that he had refused to endorse the ERG paper. But Team Johnson say that there has always been “a certain amount of distance” between the former Foreign Secretary and the draft, and that it was never planned that he sign up to it.
That sounds about right. Johnson is not the man to put his name to anything that he hasn’t had a major hand in himself, and is more comfortable writing columns or books than policy papers. He may also think that presenting a detailed prospectus simply hands one’s opponents a target to fire at. Campaigners from the Leave side of the EU referendum will recognise the debate.
Third, there is Davis. Our readers will be familiar with his draft of the Brexit White Paper from Government, published on this site as the Alternative Brexit White Paper. (It should be read alongside Mark Wallace’s piece on how a Canada Plus Plus Plus solution would work for the UK-Ireland border.)
But we are told that no further publication is expected in the near future – and that there will certainly be no lecture or speech from the former Brexit Secretary this week. He has been involved in the Northern Ireland section of the ERG paper, working with Paterson and others.
Fourth, there are the think-tanks. In terms of advancing alternatives to Chequers, Policy Exchange has done work on the UK-Ireland border, some of which has been featured in articles on this site. The IEA has produced a big paper on why the mutual recognition model, as proposed by the Government itself pre-Chequers, is a better way forward than “ongoing harmonisation with EU rules”.
The IEA paper looks at how regulation could be improved sector by sector, including digital and telecommunications, finance, transport, manufacturing, construction and chemicals, food and agriculture, and employment. We can expect more where that came from. Then there are the various ginger groups, such as Economists for Free Trade.
Finally, there is…the Government itself. Don’t forget the “emergency parachute” scheme designed by Davis and Liam Fox – “based on existing “best-in-class” trade deals between the EU and other nations such as Canada, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand”. The big idea was to work up a plan based on legal texts from deals that the EU has already struck with third countries.
This would therefore be ready to go in the event of the collapse during the Brexit negotiations of a solution based on other ideas – such as Chequers. Ministers will continue to say that the Government won’t be driven off Chequers (they would, wouldn’t they? – as Mandy Rice-Davies almost said), but the parachute is tucked away in Whitehall – with other last-ditch schemes, no doubt.