As I See It: Terry Murden
Boris Johnson said he would get rid of the Irish backstop. It’s gone. He said he would get a deal. He has got one. Now he says he’ll take Britain out of the EU on 31 October. Given his ability to defy the odds, don’t bet against him.
Despite the breakthrough in three years of talks, three years on the road to nowhere, opposition MPs still plan to scupper the deal, and vote it down. This will do the country – and possibly those who vote against the deal – more harm than good.
No deal is ever going to satisfy everybody. Businesses have reservations. CBI chief Carolyn Fairbairn said her members had “serious concerns”. Adam Marshall, head of the British Chambers, said many businesses will reserve judgment until they see the detail.
Those now scrutinising the deal and looking for weaknesses are overlooking one obvious fact: that even its supporters would admit that the EU is a dastardly bureaucratic, officious, inefficient, meddling, monolithic, often neglectful and incompetent organisation. No one ever loved it. Picking holes in the Boris deal is like saying it is too risky to holiday in Scotland because it might rain. We are looking for a perfect deal with an imperfectly formed institution.
Therefore, this is a time for compromise and Mr Johnson appears to have been forced to make concessions, not least on the continuation of payments and the creation of a quasi-internal border in Ireland. This should not be held against him. Negotiation is the art of the possible.
Opposition parties, including the SNP, who have taken legal action to prevent Britain leaving with No Deal – claiming it would be catastrophic – may now be the architects of such an outcome if they vote down the agreement. The SNP will vote against No Deal and the Boris deal. Nothing will be good enough because the party wants to sew more seeds of chaos in pursuit of its real agenda.
The DUP leaders keep insisting they do not want Northern Ireland to be treated any differently to the rest of the UK without acknowledging that we are in this mess because it is different. It is the only part of the UK with a land border with the EU and its own difficult history makes it unique. To that end, the SNP’s attempt to claim NI is being given favoured treatment is ignorant and disrespectful of Irish history and the realities of the modern economy.
If Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach was able to offer gracious and respectful support for the deal and – significantly – future Ireland-Northern Ireland relations, why couldn’t the DUP and SNP leaders?
Mr Johnson remains confident he will get his deal through parliament, helped by EU negotiators who are minded not to agree to an extension of talks, thereby nullifying the Benn Act and bringing Tory rebels back into the fold. If the deal is defeated on Saturday he will take Britain out of the EU without a deal, thereby achieving the third of his pledges.
He will then be in a position to shift blame for a No Deal outcome on to those who have fought to prevent it. Crucially, a Brexit-exhausted public may be unforgiving towards those who prevent the process being brought to a conclusion. This is said to be playing on the minds of waverers who know that they could be voting to end their own careers.
What are the alternatives?
Opposition MPs force a second referendum
Suppose a second referendum is held and confirms the Leave vote. In this scenario MPs – even the Liberal AntiDemocrats who have failed to respect the first – would struggle to justify continued opposition to Boris’s deal when it would be brought back to MPs, probably in the Spring. In the meantime, businesses and the economy would continue to suffer from more months of uncertainty.
If the second vote reverses the first, and we decide to remain then the arguments would kick off all over again with the possibility of civil unrest as Brexit campaigners feel they have been cheated out of leaving. Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage would enjoy a huge surge in support and there would be a clamour for a general election. Given the swing to the Brexit Party in the European Elections he could even be invited to form a government.
The government refuses to call a second referendum, resigns and a general election is called
Mr Johnson has a healthy lead in the polls and with a Churchillian call to back Britain he is likely to win, particularly if Brexit supporters fall behind him as their best bet for a satisfactory exit. The big question would be whether he is returned with a majority. If he was, Jeremy Corbyn would resign as leader of a Labour Party whose supporters have become disillusioned over a perceived lack of clarity on its Brexit policy and other nagging issues such as anti-semitism and the cost of its renationalisation plans.
Suppose Labour wins. It said it will re-open negotiations even though the EU has said it is unlikely to agree to further talks. If it did, then Labour’s best hope would be to persuade it to accept further UK concessions on the single market, the customs union and the free movement of labour, as well control over workers’ and environmental rights.
However, Brexit campaigners – including swathes of Labour supporters – would say this is not Brexit and it would spark more divisions and wrangling.