Peter Foster @pmdfoster Europe Editor of the Daily Telegraph. Formerly based in Washington DC, Beijing and New Delhi. Opinions my own. May. 14, 2019 4 min read

So what is Olly Robbins up to in Brussels, and will he be saving #Brexit any time soon? (Yes, you don't need to answer that). But here's some thoughts. 1/Thread

 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/05/14/olly-robbinss-trip-brussels-will-not-fixing-brexit/ 

So understand that, as I think @Mij_Europe first mentioned, the focus of meetings is on examining texts that might "entrench" whatever promises Labour get from Tories in this negotiation - and the current focus of this is in text of Withdrawal Agreement Bill. /2

It goes without saying that all this is moot if Tories and Labour cannot agree a deal. And with Labour digging in on Second Referendum requirement and Tories spooked by Brexit Party and prospects of customs union deal...it's hard (to put it kindly) to see how a deal happens/3

Even assuming a deal was possible, one question was always how to protect commitment to, say, a Customs Union for an incoming Brexiteer Tory PM - given that @theresa_may has advertised her plan to leave after the Withdrawal Deal is passed. /4

Amending the Political Declaration on the Future Relationship doesn't cut it, since it is not legally binding and in any case (as Barnier told Corbyn last month) covered the full spectrum of possible outcomes. /5

So if you can't amend the WA, it isn't worth fixing PD (tho you might as window-dressing), and other legislative routes are too cumbersome...you're left with changes to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill that would 'entrench' commitments /6

Of course there's a couple of whopping caveats to all this.

1) however you 'entrench' commitments, they cannot hold Parliament indefinitely; if the will of Parliament changes, so can the commitments. /7

There is, as one official points out, an irony here.

If Mrs May circumvents a 'meaningful vote' (made law in 2018) by tabling the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, she'll have proved that very point. /8

2) That said, all these negotiation are effectively rendered moot if the Withdrawal Agreement passes.

Since May's deal = a Customs Union whichever way you cut it. Either voluntarily, to avoid the backstop, or via the backstop. /9

As I argued here, Brexit is not ‘Hotel California’ Brexit but a hotel with a set-menu which amounts to a ‘customs union, four ways’.

You can take it, or leave it. But if you leave it, guess what, you still get it. /10

 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/05/07/snakes-ladders-brexit-whatever-roll-leads-customs-union/ 

And the maddest part of all, is that even if @Nigel_Farage and his @brexitparty_uk ally in some way with @DominicRaab and @BorisJohnson to force a 'no deal' Brexit - after the EU refuse to renegotiate the backstop - the same issues apply. And I'd hazard with the same outcome. /11

One of the most staggering things about the @brexitparty_uk phenomenon - and it is a phenomenon I think - is that it is STILL selling the same solutions and tactics that we saw in both 2015, with Cameron renegotiation, and 2016./12

It's like the last four years of losing the argument never happened?

And the fact that these same-old huff and puff harder plans are espoused by the SAME people who tried, and failed that very tactic in the past, seems to make no difference at all. /13

This is storing up a world of pain.

There was, perhaps, a tiny window (before Brady amendment and the re-embracing of Malthouse) when serious people were discussing a (long) time limit on the backstop as a conceit to get deal over line. /14

But does anyone think that a hostile, pro-WTO #brexit UK prime minister, elected on a promise of buccaneering divergence, is going to persuade the EU27 to do a U-turn on the integrity of the single market? What passed event leads us to believe that? /15

The argument I hear is that if the EU knew that this new PM (unlike May) really would drive the bus off the cliff - assuming Parliament could be forced to go along with this, or ignored long enough to make it happen - they would cave in.

This is not a bet I would take. /16

And yet, in the face of complete paralysis and a political landscape where the very future of our two main political parties is under question, then rule nothing out.

The theoretical allure of a 'no deal' may temporarily trump the bitter ashes of compromise. /17

But lest we forget, this is only the divorce. However we get there - orderly/disorderly deal/no deal there will still have to be a negotiation. And it will be a negotiation in which the EU protects and prosecutes its interests, just as we would. /18

That is Brexit. However you get there - trade deals need to be done, the Irish border needs to be addressed and that means negotiation WITH the other side, not ourselves. Hard to believe, four years after this whole process began, we haven't even started. 19 ENDS


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