Is the Chequers Agreement a real Brexit?
It’s been over two years since 17.4 million people voted to leave the European Union, the largest single democratic vote in British history. But it’s taken until this week for the government to agree on their plan for what our exit will look like – a plan which reopened old wounds, leading to the resignation of David Davis and Boris Johnson.
A recent poll showed that 53% are unsure if the deal is good or bad for Britain, and 44% are unsure on whether it respects the referendum result. As a proud Brexiteer I wanted to cut through the noise and look at the agreement closely to determine whether it matches the reasons I and many others voted Leave.
The first major point in the agreement is a free trade area for goods between the EU and the UK. Very few people would have a problem with this in theory. However, it is the method from which it is obtained that is concerning. The UK would keep the single market rules for all goods, including agricultural goods and food, while also committing to copy future changes.
I agree that keeping many single market rules to ensure trade is a sensible step – divergence for the sake of divergence would be damaging to our economy - however, as a sovereign independent country, we should be able to diverge should our democratically elected Parliament vote in that way. It’s certainly a positive point that the agreement would allow divergence in services, which make up 80% of our economy. However, in areas like genetically modified food, we would be prevented from becoming world leaders in innovation if we were forced to keep the EU’s bureaucratic anti-science rules. The agreement states that should we choose to diverge in future, there would be “consequences” but does not explain what these consequences would be. Would the EU be able to bring legal proceedings against us, or would it simply be changes in the level of trade? This detail is vital, yet it lacks any clarity (perhaps intentionally).
This common rulebook would also require UK courts to pay attention to European Court of Justice. I personally don’t have the issue that some Brexiteers have with this. Mainly because In any trade agreement, there must be a mechanism for resolving disputes, and the agreement makes clear that this mechanism must involve both UK and EU courts. It must be noted that it would not be a case, as we have now, of the EU court being supreme and being able to overrule decisions made in the UK courts.
I also have less worries about the proposed Facilitated Customs Arrangement than some. We would collect tariffs on the EU’s behalf for goods intended for the EU; but would be free to set our own tariffs for goods intended for the UK and would be able to set our own trade policy with free trade deals around the world. The only roadblock to our own free trade deals would be the continuing regulatory alignment with the EU, which may prevent mutual recognition of standards in future trade deals.
There are many good points about the deal. We’d be outside the single market and customs union, outside the Common Agriculture and Fisheries Policies, outside of the EU’s ever closer political union and able to control our migration policy once more. However, my biggest worry is that this is only an opening proposal, not the final deal. If May had agreed this as a final deal with the EU, I would most likely reluctantly accept it. However, much like with David Cameron’s failed renegotiation, by not being bold in her initial offer, May is likely to get an even more watered down deal by the end – one that no Brexiteer can accept. All we can do as observers to this diplomatic circus is hold our collective breath and see what the EU says.