Boris Johnson has been celebrated in predictable sections of the press this morning for securing a deal with the EU. On the Northern Ireland backstop, it’s the sort of deal that was available a year ago and that Theresa May was ready to sign until the DUP blocked it. Putting his leadership ambition first, Johnson too helped consign it to the dustbin saying, “no British Conservative government could or should sign up to any such arrangement”.
Now he’s gone back on his word and ignored DUP objections in order to secure the hardest possible Brexit short of a ‘no deal’ crash out. But this deal not only sells out his former allies in the DUP, it sells out the rest of the UK. It’s worse, much worse, than the deal that Parliament has rejected three times.
Johnson’s deal removes the ‘backstop’ by putting Northern Ireland in ‘de facto’ alignment with the EU single market and customs union, moving border checks from the island of Ireland to the Irish Sea. But most MPs voted against May’s deal because it damaged the UK economy and opened the door to ending the rights and protections for workers, consumers and the environment, not because of the backstop. Johnson’s deal goes further.
Johnson has removed references to the UK seeking a “close relationship” with the EU throughout the ‘Political Declaration on the Future Relationship between the EU and the UK’ which accompanies the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement and sets the direction for the next stage of the Brexit negotiations.
May’s deal talked of a future relationship built on the interim arrangements during the transitional period, which kept the UK in broad alignment with a single customs territory and a ‘level playing field’ on rights and protections. Its trading relationship on goods that is “as close as possible” has been replaced with “a Free Trade Agreement”. Gone too is the commitment to “deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field”.
The Johnson deal is what the Brexit extremists of the European Research Group have always wanted, as a stepping stone towards more fundamental change in our country. In today’s world there are only three choices for an economy like ours – align with Europe, China or America. The Tory right are clear; they want to break the link with the European social model and line us up with the deregulated low-tax model of Trump’s America.
The Government has estimated that the deal will shrink the economy by 6.7% compared with May’s 3.9%. The TUC said the consequence would be “hammering jobs and livelihoods, and putting our NHS and public services at further risk. Leaving the customs union will also make trade more expensive and slower, hitting working people’s pockets. Low income families would be hit hardest.”
So I’ll be voting against Johnson’s deal tomorrow and doing all that I can to secure Labour’s aim of a further public vote on any deal – with an option to remain. Then, after the votes, I’ll be joining the hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of London in a march for a final say on the country’s future.
You can catch my interview on the deal with Hallam FM here.