I spent most of Sunday trying to see the Chequers Brexit agreement in the best positive light. The deal seemed a long way from what I would have liked to see in a Brexit – which, as I’ve written before, would be some form of FTA arrangement. It ceded far too much control to Brussels – and that was even before the negotiations begin, in which no doubt the position would be compromised further. But I was conscious that I hadn’t read the full document, recognised that there clearly needed to be compromises and, above all, was reassured that the Brexit-supporting members of the Cabinet had agreed. Surely, I thought, they wouldn’t have agreed to it if it was as bad as it seemed.
But then David Davis resigned. His resignation letter, which I’ve printed in full below, confirms all of what I’d feared about it. Davis has always been a man of principle – famously resigning in protest over civil liberties – and, whether or not you agree with him, his commitment to his principles is beyond reproach. And after that came the other resignations, including Boris.
One side of me is filled with hope. Maybe this, at last, will be the opportunity to secure the good, clean Brexit deal that the UK deserves. At the same time, the other side of me fears that Douglas Carswell – a Brexiteer beyond reproach, and one of the people who did the most to make Brexit happen – may be right, when he says:
“I hope that some of the more excitable Eurosceptic backbencher MPs don’t one day look back with regret at turning down a Brexit deal that allows for incremental divergence. Ffs, take the win. You’ve been losing for most of the past 30 years….” – Douglas Carswell, Twitter, 09/07/18
For the events of today undeniably increase uncertainty. Whilst they increase the chance of a good Brexit, they also increase the chance of no Brexit at all – of throwing away all that has been achieved in the last few years.
So I don’t know what to wish for. With the caveat that I’ve not seen the full document, it seems to me that:
– If the Prime Minister can deliver the Chequers deal, that would still make leaving worthwhile. It would be a lot worse than an FTA-style Brexit and probably worse than no deal at all, but still positive, particularly if it was followed by further incremental separation. But if it is significantly watered down in negotiations, it could even be worse than not leaving at all.
– No deal, particularly if it comes about as a result of the Chequers deal being rejected by Brussels or by Labour, may be the best option one can realistically hope for at this stage.
– Any of the more dramatic options following a leadership contest are fraught with risk. It appears the only chance to delivering a clean, full Brexit (FTA-deal or similar). But is such a thing achievable at all, given the Remain majority in the Commons, determined to block it? What’s more it also carries the risk of ending up fully in the Customs Union or Single Market, or even with Brexit called off entirely, if the whole house of cards goes down. Is taking that chance a price worth paying?
So I don’t know what to wish for. I have huge respect for both those Leavers who have resigned, and those who have chosen to stay – they face some astonishingly difficult decisions.
Going forward, I only hope that those in a position to make the decisions that matter are able to judge wisely on what it is best to do to deliver the best possible Brexit for the UK.
8th July 2018
Dear Prime Minister,
As you know there have been a significant number of occasions in the last year or so on which I have disagreed with the Number 10 policy line, ranging from accepting the Commission’s sequencing of negotiations through to the language on Northern Ireland in the December Joint Report. At each stage I have accepted collective responsibility because it is part of my task to find workable compromises, and because I considered it was still possible to deliver on the mandate of the referendum, and on our manifesto commitment to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market.
I am afraid that I think the current trend of policy and tactics is making that look less and less likely. Whether it is the progressive dilution of what I thought was a firm Chequers agreement in February on right to diverge, or the unnecessary delays of the start of the White Paper, or the presentation of a backstop proposal that omitted the strict conditions that I requested and believed that we had agreed, the general direction of policy will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one.
The Cabinet decision on Friday crystallised this problem. In my view the inevitable consequence of the proposed policies will be to make the supposed control by Parliament illusory rather than real. As I said at Cabinet, the “common rule book” policy hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense.
I am also unpersuaded that our negotiating approach will not just lead to further demands for concessions.
Of course this is a complex area of judgement and it is possible that you are right and I am wrong. However, even in that event it seems to me that the national interest requires a Secretary of State in my Department that is an enthusiastic believer in your approach, and not merely a reluctant conscript. While I have been grateful to you for the opportunity to serve, it is with great regret that I tender my resignation from the Cabinet with immediate effect.