Phase One of the Brexit Negotiations

The agreement that Theresa May and the EU Commission made during phase 1 of the Brexit negotiations allows the talks to move forward. But nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and there are obvious causes for concern.

We cannot allow for the continued oversight of the European Court of Justice in the UK post-Brexit. The idea that EU citizens in the UK should be “protected” by the ECJ would be a bizarre situation, creating a privileged class of three million people whose rights in this country would be enforced by a court beyond the influence of our Government and Parliament.

The question of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland dominated the headlines last week, so it was particularly good to see confirmed what many of us have been arguing for some time: there is no need for a “hard” border and avoiding one is entirely possible with new technology and goodwill.

Paragraph 45 of the agreement clearly states that the UK is leaving both the Single Market and the Customs Union. In 1999, 61 per cent of UK goods exports were with the EU, now they are 47 per cent. By 2025, it has been projected that they will account for under 35 per cent. Those who would now cling gloomily to the status quo would deny us the key benefits of expanding free trade – lowering the price of food, clothing and footwear for all consumers – preferring instead to stifle new competition and enterprise.

Paragraph 49 states that the UK will maintain “full alignment” with their rules to support North-South co-operation on the island of Ireland in the absence of agreed solutions. We cannot allow “alignment” to be interpreted as shackling our whole domestic economy with the rules of the Single Market (exports to which account for only 12 per cent of our GDP) and having us effectively inside the Customs Union. Such an outcome would leave us without control either of our borders or our trade. It could not possibly be consistent with the outcome of the referendum.

Our net contribution to the EU budget has been over £180 billion – the second biggest in the bloc. Ending those contributions is clearly a major cause of European concern. If the EU wants our money, it must talk seriously about a comprehensive reciprocal free-trade deal with zero tariffs.

If not, we must be prepared to walk away, paying not a penny more than we legally owe and advancing our global trade talks. For us, the WTO option means taking back control of our laws, money and borders and making no further contributions to the EU budget.

A good deal needs to be better than this, or the Government’s principle – no deal is better than a bad deal – should apply.