Now the Brexit trade deal has passed Parliament, and we've had some time to digest it, it marks the end of four and a half years of what seemed like constant battles with the Remain/Rejoiner establishment, from the Lib Dems, SNP, People's Vote Campaign to loudmouth former Prime Minister's sticking their oar in, to Brexit bashing Bishops in our upper Chamber.
Boris Johnson's deal is far from perfect but it has passed the 'Bill Cash Test' which so many Brexiteers had eagerly waited for since the announcement of a trade deal on Christmas Eve, negotiated to the 11th hour by Lord Frost and his dedicated team of negotiators. Of course, many Brexiteers like myself read over the deal with an untrained eye and made some sense out of the legal and trade jargon it is compiled of but many patiently waited the verdict of arguably the UK's most senior Brexiteer, Sir Bill Cash, the Conservative MP for Stone, ERG member, Spartan and member of ERG's Star Chamber (legal advisory committee). Sir Bill has been in the Commons since 1984 and has been a member of the House of Commons European Union Scrutiny Select Committee for 35 years, that was just 10 years after the UK joined the EEC!
The verdict of the European Research Group came in a joint statement following the findings of the aforementioned Star Chamber who had provided the expert legal scrutiny of the agreement, Sir Bill Cash MP, David Jones MP (Chairman of the ERG), Martin Howe QC (Chairman of Lawyers for Britain and friend of The Bruges Group), Barnie Reynolds (Global Head of Financial Institutions, Shearman and Sterling), Christopher Howarth (of the ERG) and Emily Law (on behalf of Professor David Collins of University of London and James Webster) made the statement less than 24 hours before the debate in Parliament which advised members of the ERG to vote with the deal. I'll include some of their findings in this article. However, not all were totally satisfied with the Star Chamber analysis and it is to some extent describing the need for a strong and robust pro-Leave (anti-EU) Government to maintain our sovereignty in the years to come.
Of course, things haven't always passed this rigorous test, then Prime Minister Theresa May brought her Withdrawal Agreement back to the House for a third time on 29th March 2019, the original leaving date for the UK, but 28 'Spartan' MPs, all of the ERG voted against it even when senior Brexiteers like Jacob Rees-Mogg (the then Chairman of the ERG), Boris Johnson, David Davis and Sir Iain Duncan Smith voted with the government. Those Spartan MPs deserve full credit and all the recognition they get for sticking to their principles and voting against the disastrous deal Mrs May put to the House for a third time; those MPs were Adam Afriyie, Steve Baker, John Baron, Peter Bone, Suella Braverman (now the Attorney General), Andrew Bridgen, Sir Bill Cash, Sir Christopher Chope, James Duddridge, Mark Francois, Marcus Fysh, Philip Hollobone, Adam Holloway, Ranil Jayawardena, Sir Bernard Jenkin, Andrea Jenkyns, David Jones, Dr Julian Lewis, Julia Lopez, Craig Mackinlay, Anne Marie Morris, Priti Patel, Owen Paterson, Sir John Redwood, Laurence Robertson, Andrew Rosindell, Lee Rowley and Theresa Villiers, as well as of course our friends in the DUP and on the side of Labour Leave, although the Labour Party were whipped to vote against the deal anyway.
The Government as a matter of priority must now build upon the success of this agreement by securing a trade deal that covers the services industry. It is imperative that the United Kingdom's financial services industry has full and unfettered access to markets in the European Union. The City of London, a vital part of our economy, must, however, retain its independence from EU regulators.
For me, UK sovereignty is the biggest reason for Brexit, to be able to decide our own laws, be our own sovereign nation with nothing seeded to Brussels, and I believe this deal does that, although there are some concerning elements in both the deal and legal analysis. The deal which the Prime Minister has proposed "reaffirms sovereignty" according to the Star Chamber, as well as this, there's an international arbitrator for any disputes in the future between the UK and EU, therefore not making the UK subject to European Court of Justice jurisdiction. The UK will however be able to opt in to any EU programmes over the coming 12 months but crucially aren't subject to or under obligation to and the Agreement "contains a provision for termination on 12 months' notice" from any EU programme. This deal allows us to make not only our own laws but our own mistakes, therefore if we don't agree with something, we can hold our own, elected politicians to account rather than an unelected bureaucrat in the EU Commission. This deal will completely end the UK's obligation to the ECJ, as all disproportionate retaliation on the EU's part unrelated to effects on trade isn't subject to ECJ ruling, subsequently making us a free nation once again where laws are decided in Westminster, where they should be decided and voted on.
Some may argue that these people are only supporting the deal out of blind Party loyalty but Boris has the support of former Vote Leave Chair and former Labour MP, Gisela Stuart who said on an interview with TalkRadio, "Boris got the essence of what leaving the EU was about, and I give him full credit for the deal. Theresa May wanted to change as little as possible which I didn't understand but Boris has changed that, he wants a different relationship and a different future but we must leave on a good footing which I think we have. Mainland Europe and the EU will continue to be a huge trading partner for us and we will of course work together on defence and security in the future." Baroness Stuart makes a good point there, there is no need for an EU army or a common defence strategy, just good old co-operation between sovereign nations, like we had before the European Union and even the European Economic Community were a thing.
One of the major sticking points in agreeing a deal was the legislation and terms around state aid and subsidies, however the Star Chamber, with legal advice from Martin Howe QC (expert in EU legislation), concludes that the deal is not based on the "highly prescriptive and intrusive EU state aid rules" so therefore the British government can pick and choose where state aid will go. This is a massive compromise on the EU's part as they were vehemently against UK diversion from EU state aid rules in fear that British firms would gain competitive advantage of EU ones, however, it appears that Michel Barnier and his team crumbled on this. The actual text in the ERG statement, reads as follows for context, "The right of the other party (i.e. the EU in the case of a UK subsidy) to challenge a measure it contends to be a subsidy is limited to cases where it can demonstrate, based on facts, that there is a serious risk of a negative effect on trade or investment between the parties. If so, it can impose 'necessary and proportionate' remedial measures i.e. tariffs, but those steps are subject to arbitration. The UK is not required to subject Acts of Parliament to domestic review in the courts."
Not only that, we eventually leave the harmful cataclysm that is the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which has been a menace to farmers and created more waste than could be imagined, that's not even to mention that farmers are often paid to not grow crops, therefore artificially inflating the price of food grown by nations who are signed up to the CAP, in other words, EU nations. This policy alone has dismantled the productivity of farmers, to the cost of you and I, the consumer so I say good riddance to this nonsensical agreement and hello to a new form of subsidy which works in our interest and encourages farmers to grow more and consequently increase productivity. That is how the free market should work, not by imposing regressive quotas or targets but by incentivising productivity and supply and demand economics.
Now fishing is an issue which has been central to Brexit talks, it was central to the success and traction of Nigel Farage's Brexit Party, and it has been one of the sticking points for Lord Frost and his team. But does this deal deliver on our fisheries? Well, there's no easy answer and truthfully it both does and doesn't at the same time. Let's take a look at where it does deliver first, the agreement states that EU vessels have 5 ½ years, up to the midpoint of 2026, are to have "defined, but progressively declining, shares of the Total Allowable Catches of fish species as specified in the Annexes" (linked below). Jumping straight to a negative now, this is of course more time than if we didn't reach a trade agreement and much longer than some people wanted, however, the EU had first suggested 14 years rather than the final agreed 5.5 years; we must also take into consideration a point that has perhaps been missed by some: the fact that we need time to build up our fleet of fishing boats as well as crews to man those vessels. Let's be honest, we don't physically have the capacity of fishermen or fishing boats to catch our Total Allowable Catch, we need to be realistic about these things I would think but I can see why there is some anger towards this part of the deal, however, I think it is far from the 'great sellout' some are suggesting it is.
We have a massive export market for our catch in the form of the European Union, and we need to remember that we still have to trade with them and we need to make some form of compromise, I do believe there has been a hell of a lot more on their part though! Thankfully, despite some reservations on the agreement on fishing, we ARE NOT subject to the Common Fisheries Policy, Hurrah! A similarly disastrous agreement to the aforementioned CAP. The EU are able to impose tariffs on British exports of fish in mid-2026 when the end of the 'fishing transition period' ends but that will mean that we and the legal right to take full control of our territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). During this so-called transitional period for fish, the UK will be able to impose rules and regulations to territorial waters, as long as UK and EU vessels are under the same application of the imposed rules; this may come in the form of more conservation measures of fish in our waters or other marine conservation efforts.
As veteran Brexiteer, Sir John Redwood suggested, we should now take this opportunity to move forward and make significant advances in technology and fairness. Brexit should be a new beginning for us all to move forward with innovation and investment in our sovereign nation. The first meaningful sign of that would be to ban super trawlers, from EU, and all nations for that matter, from British territorial waters and our EEZ – these massive vessels are damaging to our marine life and marine ecosystem so by doing so it would help with Boris Johnson's conservation of our natural resources agenda.
There is further scepticism around the agreement post-2026 as it is subjective of the government of the day, the EU may terminate the "energy title and the transitional, less restrictive rules of origin for electric batteries. The question of practical sovereignty is therefore dependent on the preparedness and robustness of the UK Government's response at the time, which we are confident they will achieve" as per the analysis of the Star Chamber.
It has been well documented that the Democratic Unionist Party instructed their MPs to vote against the deal, this however isn't really to do with the deal but more so the problematic Northern Irish Protocol which was passed and enshrined in January. The trade deal has very little effect on Northern Ireland being treated differently to the rest of the UK, the NIP which was part of the Withdrawal Agreement, ratified at the beginning of the year, provides continuing and direct jurisdiction of the European Commission and binding ECJ jurisdiction, therefore leading to checks being required between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, this is very worrying for the future of our United Kingdom but this trade deal has very little impact on what has already been passed by Parliament nearly a year ago. The NIP means that Northern Ireland will still be subject to the EU's dynamic alignment – the EU's state aid laws may also apply to Ulster but it has not yet been fully laid out by Minister for the Cabinet Office (the Department responsible for Brexit negotiations and preparation) Michael Gove, yet.
The DUP Chief Whip in Westminster, Sammy Wilson who was also the Party's Spokesman on Brexit, addressed the Commons yesterday outlining why his Party would vote against the deal, as a matter of principle, not to stop Brexit as the rest who voted against were aiming for. I must admit I do empathise with Sammy Wilson and co, Northern Ireland is left in a worrying position and their position as a member of our United Kingdom may be seen to be hanging in the balance. Perhaps, this may even fuel the SNP's charge for independence in Scotland, after all, Northern Ireland will have different arrangements to the mainland UK, something First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been pushing for. In the next few months, we need to re-evaluate the Norther Irish Protocol and work constructively with our friends in the DUP as well as the European Commission. Wilson made clear their vote against the trade agreement was a principled vote against the NIP which has been concern to many Brexiteers but I do believe there could be and will be a resolution to this in the forthcoming months to protect our Union and to protect Northern Ireland's place in our United Kingdom.
The concerns over state aid, which again was a cause for delay in reaching an agreement, remain valid ones with this agreement and relies on a robust government, which I believe this one can be, the LPF agreement does go a lot further than comparable trade deals, as the ERG point out but and it is a big but, "the impact on the practical exercise of sovereignty is likely to be limited should they be addressed by a dynamic and robust UK Government". I think that the Johnson administration will prosper and it will always have the checks and balances provided by the ERG and especially those fondly remembered Spartans led by Sir Bill Cash and Sir John Redwood. The ERG also say that, "In any event they do not prevent the UK from changing its laws as it sees fit at a risk of tariff countermeasures, and if those were unacceptable the Agreement could be terminated at 12 months' notice", a very crucial point that if the deal does not work out for us then we have the ability to walk away, unilaterally.
However, despite its flaws, it has received plaudits from all angles including, perhaps most surprisingly from the Brexit Party! Yes, despite their ardent position of no deal, the Brexit Party are happy to give their seal of approval, Chairman Richard Tice released a statement on behalf of the Party saying, "The deal is in no way perfect and it must be checked in detail. It seems as first glance, satisfactory in getting our freedom back on security, defence and foreign policy, and, most importantly, free from the superiority of the ECJ. There are some clear compromises on the level playing field and fishing which we will have to play out and be kept under close review. However, right now this is as good as we're going to get. The process has taken far too long, has created insecurity and worry for thousands of British businesses and should have been concluded far earlier, with far less fuss. There may be other ways to help fishing and deregulation if Westminster shows resolve, something that has over the last four and a half years since this country made its view clear in the referendum has been sorely lacking." Nigel Farage even went as far as saying he would vote for the deal, should he have had the chance to and declared victory for the British people against the political establishment. Even Ben Habib, who has been more than critical of the government was forced to admit it was a "better deal than I was ever expecting".
Now we eventually find ourselves discussing ERASMUS+, the thing the Remoaners, or should I now say Rejoiners, have been banging on about for the last week, which goes to show there's very little to complain about this deal. This scheme has been costing the British Treasury millions and millions of pounds per year since the programme was first set up. The government plan to replace ERASMUS with a more global and outward looking scheme which works in the interests of British students and universities, this will be the Turing Scheme, named after scientist and WW2 codebreaker Alan Turing. The Turing Scheme will be backed by over £100 million from the Department of Education, a snip compared to what ERASMUS+ was costing the UK taxpayer, providing funding for around 35,000 students in universities, colleges and schools to go on placements and exchanges overseas and around the world, not just within EU nations, starting in September 2021.
No matter what we think of the trade deal, it seems to have passed the majority of tests and checks set out by the ERG and its Star Chamber, it has the stamp of approval from the Vote Leave faithful including Gisela Stuart and Matthew Elliott as well as it having the satisfaction, all be it reluctant approval, of the Brexit Party and its leader, Nigel Farage who isn't frightened to make his view known to the government! However, it has passed Parliament with an absolutely humongous majority so I think the most important thing is what we do next, where we go from here, how we use Brexit to our advantage, we already have an abundance of trade agreements with 60+ countries as well as the EU deal, amounting to over £1tn of trade in total, including the estimated worth of the £668bn EU deal, thanks to the hard work of Liz Truss, her team and Ministers at the Department of International Trade. In the New Year, The Bruges Group will set out its post-Brexit policies and advisories to the Government on how we can utilise and derive the full benefits of Brexit in a new prosperous world which will undoubtedly bring new beginnings for our nation.
One final note, if the deal is good enough for Sir Bill Cash and passes the test with several other senior Brexiteers then it's good enough for me, Sir Bill is probably the most experienced and certainly one of the most recognised and respected Brexiteers in not just in the Commons or Parliament but across the world of politics. Let's see where Brexit takes us in the New Year, which I hope we can celebrate with a glass of English sparkling wine or maybe an Australian red wine, and let 2021 be the new beginning for our United Kingdom.