The Brexit divorce settlement  

Well, now we have the 'divorce agreement' signed by Santa Teresa on Friday 8th December. The agreement has the approval of Remainers and also the leading Brexiteers (apart obviously from Farage and Arron Banks). The leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, has said that she is rejoicing. But what have we actually accepted? Well it seems that rejoicing is indeed in order, because we've taken back control. With the conclusion of this agreement, we now know quite clearly that:

Goods and services

a. We're definitely leaving the Customs Union and the Single Market and so can adopt any regulatory framework we like;


b. Unless the Irish government and the Northern Ireland Assembly agree otherwise, we're going to maintain alignment (i.e. comply) with all the regulations required for membership of the Customs Union and the Single Market. And, of course, there is no Northern Ireland Assembly at the moment to give its agreement. Just MLAs being paid to kick their heels while they argue over whether Irish should become an official language of Northern Ireland, as it is in Ireland itself.


a.  We will have complete control of our borders and so will not accept free movement of people between the EU and the UK;


b.   In order to avoid a border between Ireland, Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, the common travel area will continue in force for the whole of the UK and Ireland, thus preventing our imposing any controls on travel to the UK by nationals of other EU countries via Ireland. Of course, once they're here, then we'll be entitled to hunt them down mercilessly so that we can deport them - again and again.

I don't know how it took them so long to come up with such an intellectually coherent and straightforward solution.

Of course, just after the ink had dried, we had comments from Michael Gove and David Davis which gave a slightly different slant to it all. Michael Gove made it clear that the final agreement, whenever that may come to fruition, will not not in fact be the final word. If the electorate donít like it, then they can express their views through the ballot box at the next general election so that the incoming government can change it all. He was writing in the Daily Telegraph, a long time opponent of the EU, with an elderly readership who are mostly in agreement with the editor of their newspaper.  So then they should not lose hope that their real desire, a hard Brexit, may ultimately be achieved.  Of course, they are by definition dying out at a greater rate than the younger generation who are mainly Remainers, so there is hope for the country yet.

David Davis told us what was always obvious to anyone who understands how the legislative process works: that the divorce agreement is not legally binding. He said it was a statement of intent. So then, if we didnít get an acceptable trade deal, the EU could whistle for the payments that the UK had agreed to make. This was in stark contrast to the position taken by Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had said that it was inconceivable that a country such as the UK would not make payments which were legally due from it. This was an echo of what Teresa May had said in her Florence speech.

And now (12th December) we have the EU demanding that we enshrine the divorce agreement in legislation because of the comments made by Davis Ė even though he tried yesterday to row back from them by saying that when he said it was a statement of intent, that meant it was more binding than a legal obligation! Like a little child found with his hand in the sweetie jar denying that he was after sweets. What Parliament will make of a Bill incorporating the carefully crafted wording of the agreement, I donít know, but of course they can always hold their noses and pass it anyway knowing that it wonít make a scrap of difference. As was implicit in what Gove said Ė it really doesnít matter what Act is passed, because it can always be repealed later on with a bare majority.

Of course, what is actually legally due from the UK to the EU is a matter of much debate. The relevant House of Lords select committee came to the conclusion that nothing was legally due from us upon leaving the club. So then, we havenít a clue as to what any of this means and are unlikely to know even when itís all over, because it will never be all over, if the Brexiteers have their way, until every UK citizen has a bull-dog and the UK itself has floated off into the mid-Atlantic, well away from Europe.

Happy Brexit!

Paul Buckingham

10th December 2017 (revised 12th December)

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