The Political Declaration contains divorce terms so amicable that the opposing parties ought to get a room. Yet if the General Election forecasts are correct, the next Conservative government should have a majority that will let Boris Johnson radically revise the WA/PD or scrap them altogether. Will he do it?
Should he do it?
The hubristic European Union is already gloating that May’s Withdrawal Agreement hasn’t been modified, merely clarified. I haven’t yet studied the documentation, so I can’t say – but then, how many MPs and spads have done so? How many, rather, are like Douglas Hurd at Maastricht, who jested (and was it a jest?) ‘Now we’ve signed it – we had better read it’? Still, they’ve had two years to go through what was 599 pages and is now only 541 – not much longer than an airport bonkbuster; and it’s their job, after all.
The Political Declaration, on the other hand, is merely 26 pages in both the original and revised versions; the length of a short story. Even the layman can read that, and what a story it is!
This sketch of the future relationship between the divorcees is half lawyer and half lover. In the first version the word ‘ambitious’ appears seven times, ‘close’ sixteen, ‘to the extent possible’ (and similar phrases) thirteen, and ‘align/ment’ four. One feels the bonds being tied already. So masterful… and so yielding!
And the atmospherics are not much changed in the revision. Yes, the Irish backstop has been taken out – including the twice-used commanding phrase ‘on a permanent footing’ (how did that get past May’s negotiators?), but disputes are still to go to the EU’s Court of Justice for a ‘binding ruling’ (tighter, please!)
Here’s an odd detail: the original spoke of ‘administrative cooperation in customs’ but left out VAT. Not insignificant: we sent £3.1 billion (pre-rebate) to theEU last year, which is like winning the 10 biggest-ever jackpots on the Euromillions, twice over, annually. Oops, or not?
As for the UK-fisheries-strangling ‘level playing field’, here’s the new (longer) paragraph – even if, like me, you’re not legally trained, how many carefully ambiguous – and entangling - phrases can you find in it?
‘Given the Union and the United Kingdom's geographic proximity and economic interdependence, the future relationship must ensure open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field. The precise nature of commitments should be commensurate with the scope and depth of the future relationship and the economic connectedness of the Parties. These commitments should prevent distortions of trade and unfair competitive advantages. To that end, the Parties should uphold the common high standards applicable in the Union and the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period in the areas of state aid, competition, social and employment standards, environment, climate change, and relevant tax matters. The Parties should in particular maintain a robust and comprehensive framework for competition and state aid control that prevents undue distortion of trade and competition; commit to the principles of good governance in the area of taxation and to the curbing of harmful tax practices; and maintain environmental, social and employment standards at the current high levels provided by the existing common standards. In so doing, they should rely on appropriate and relevant Union and international standards, and include appropriate mechanisms to ensure effective implementation domestically, enforcement and dispute settlement. The future relationship should also promote adherence to and effective implementation of relevant internationally agreed principles and rules in these domains, including the Paris Agreement.’
Back to Johnson’s revise/scrap option. Can he do it?
Fair stands the wind for Boris: Corbyn's Labour Party has culled smoothie crypto-Marxist Blairites - who unlike him have actually held power and foisted real constitutional damage on us - but also repelled Old Labour by openly espousing a Marxism that would have Cassandra crying in the streets. Accordingly, Electoral Calculus predicts (as at 9 November) a 96-seat Conservative majority. This is not counting the pact offered by The Brexit Party (and favoured by TCW readers) that could split the working-class Labour vote in many key seats.
So far, Johnson rejects Farage's offer, but the risk he is taking is that enough traditional Conservative voters will understand and reject the hurriedly-made-over May deal to split their vote, too. Should they be convinced that Corbyn has no chance whatever, then anything could happen in the polling booths.
If Johnson wants a 1997-scale landslide, then like Blair he should shun presumption and over-engineer his campaign. There is still time: unless I'm mistaken, a new Parliament might pass a fresh Meaningful Vote in favour of an ironclad real deal on the slipway, instead of launching a paper boat into a stormy sea with BJ's huff-and-puff in its sails.
In short, the choice on 12 December is not between Citizen Smith and the Blond Bombshell; it's between Bullish Boris and Blowhard Boris. If he doesn't deliver Brexit, it won't be because he didn't have the chance. And then we shall know him.