Why leaving without a Withdrawal Agreement is essential on March 29

Parliament has declared war on the people. The war can only be ended if we leave the EU on 29 March with no Withdrawal Agreement.

The public has  been very patient as 2 years 8 months have passed without fulfilling the promise to take control of our borders, our laws and our money. Parliament has endlessly re run the arguments of the referendum as if we had not done all that in the campaign and come to a decision. MPs against Brexit  have  been patronising or dismissive of Leave voters.


We need to leave to create an independent democracy in our islands. We did not vote leave to achieve some  changes to our trading arrangements. We voted leave to govern ourselves, to throw off the yoke of Brussels government. We voted against the lies that had wrecked our economy in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. We voted against  the stream of laws and taxes coming out of the EU that   damage our prosperity. We  voted out to confirm we do not want to join the Euro and enter their emerging political union.


We voted to take back control of our fishing  grounds, to have a policy which is kinder to both our fish and our fishermen.

We voted to take back control of our taxes, so we can take VAT off female  sanitary products, domestic fuel and green products, where today we cannot remove those taxes.

We voted to control our borders so we can have the  same rules for EU as for non EU migrants.

We voted  to spend our own money on our own priorities. I want that Brexit bonus budget in April.

Above all we voted leave to be free again. It will be a crippling irony for our democracy if the people insist their Parliament takes back control, only to find Parliament refuses to do so. What part of Leave do Remain MPs not understand? Why do so many MPs want to stay in a puppet Parliament, whose laws are imitations of the EU ?

These Remain MPs are letting the people down badly. They blame the public for bravely choosing freedom. They  lack any vision of the better future that beckons. Their pathetic whining of how our country will be worse if they take responsibility from the EU tells us more about their inadequacies than about the bold vision of the  people.

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Expect plenty of spin before a possible third vote on the Agreement

The government is proceeding as if there will be a third vote on the Withdrawal Agreement on Monday. They will of course need to persuade the Speaker that something meaningful has changed from the previous version they put to the Commons, which lost by 149 votes.

The government approach to get MPs to vote for the Agreement depends on which MP they are talking to. Leave supporting MPs I hear are  told  there will be  a long delay to Brexit or no Brexit if they do not vote for the Agreement. Remain voting MPs are told there would be  a no deal Brexit on 29 March. As all this has appeared in the press, the two sides can see that at least one side is not getting the truth. The danger for the government is both sides may choose not to believe the government, knowing it faces different ways.

There are some Conservative Leave inclining MPs who switched votes between the first vote on the Agreement and the second. They were mainly won over to what they still regard as a very bad Agreement by the worry that maybe the alternative was a long delay. Now the government has revealed its hand to the European Council and has not even asked for a long delay, some of them may switch back to opposing the Agreement as the worry they were told about has not yet materialised.

The DUP have always taken a principled stance on this matter. Their simple red line is they cannot accept anything which gives different treatment to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. They deeply resent the EU attempt to create a new country called UK (NI) which would have different laws and customs arrangements from the rest of the UK. The difficulties for them lie in the Agreement text itself, with many pages creating island of Ireland solutions where the DUP want UK solutions. It is difficult to see how they can be persuaded to change their vote. Press briefing about making  more payments to Northern Ireland went down very badly with the DUP who were not proposing any such deal.

Meanwhile Remain MPs cannot accept the Agreement either because its vagueness on what shape the future partnership will take gives them no legal or bankable guarantees of the close relationship including customs union membership, EU environmental and employment laws  and single market rules that they want. They are very concerned that if the UK did sign the Agreement we could end up with a very bad deal  not including  the features of the EU they most wish to protect. Mrs May’s insistence that the UK will be leaving the Customs union and the single market , necessary to keep to her Manifesto, alienates the opposition parties and a handful of Conservatives. To Remain the Withdrawal Agreement is nowhere near as good as staying in. They want the PM to tear it up and try again. They want as Labour sets out at the  very least a customs union membership with close convergence of legislation.

In summary it is a very bad deal for the UK as a whole. It upsets both sides for different reasons, but Remain and Leave do agree by a big majority that this Agreement is not the way forward. The next few days will be crucial for both the government and for Brexit.  Labour sense that the government is very unstable and are likely to see this as a good opportunity to maximise opposition to a very unpopular deal to build their case against the government generally.

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No point in delay until 12 April

The government should not try to delay an answer until 12 April.  It would require difficult Parliamentary processes for no obvious gain.

Why would MPs vote for the Agreement after March 29 when they have not been willing to vote for it before March 29?

Mrs May should have asked for a free trade deal tonight and told them she cannot get the Withdrawal Agreement through, given the large defeats, the  dislike of the deal by the public and the reluctance of most MPs to change their minds on it.

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The Prime Minister’s letter to Mr Tusk

The faltering and badly drafted letter to Mr Tusk is unacceptable, asking as it does for a delay of three months in our exit from the EU.

188 Conservative MPs made clear our  opposition to any delay last Thursday in the vote, with another 12 unable to support the Prime Minister’s motion to delay. Our actions, allied to Cabinet dissent, has persuaded the Prime Minister to drop the idea of a long delay for no stated purpose which I characterised here as the phantom option.

The Prime Minister has decided to appeal to Labour and SNP MPs to vote for a short delay were she to be granted one by the EU. The letter both says she could not take the same deal back to the Commons for a vote this week under the Speaker’s ruling, and says she will  bring the same Agreement back next week after the Council for a third vote. It does not explain how this happens. The suggestion is getting Council endorsement for the documents Parliament has already considered somehow makes a difference.  The letter asks for the extension to Article 50 only to pass consequential legislation following approval of the Agreement. The letter is silent on what happens if the Agreement is voted down again or not voted on at all, though it implies we leave on 29 March with no extension.

What should the EU make of this? Many of them will feel the Prime Minister has told them before she can speak for Parliament and will get her deal through, but is still 149 votes short of a majority at last count. She has told them she would meet the timetable, only now to have to confess she cannot. They will doubtless want her to answer questions about why she wants the extension, how she would use the time, and above all why should they believe this time is different and the Agreement will go through.

They would also be wise to ask her how sure she is she could pass delay through the Commons, given the strong hostility of two thirds of her party to any such proposal. She would need to demonstrate she had a clear and reliable understanding with the Leader of the Opposition that he would provide enough MPs to offset the 200 Conservative MPs known to be against delay. This cannot be done by even a large Labour backbench rebellion but would need the Leader of the Opposition to take joint responsibility with the Prime Minister for delaying Brexit and whip accordingly. This seems unlikely, as there is little in it for Mr Corbyn to enter coalition with the PM over Brexit when any firm position on the subject splits his own party more.

Meanwhile I agree some MPs have been delaying Brexit as the PM says. These MPs clearly include the Prime Minister herself who has wasted far too much time on a negotiation and Agreement which the public rejects massively. The latest poll shows just 14% support  for Mrs May’s Agreement.

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The Prime Minister’s 8 pm Statement is delayed

Does this mean they are rewriting it?  Can it  be different from what she and the Brexit Ministers told the Commons this afternoon?

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Apparently a request for a long delay has been cancelled!

Good news that maybe the Prime Minister has now understood she must not ask for a long delay.

This site called it a “phantom” proposal in a recent post, as it never seemed a realistic option.

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No delay

The referendum result must be fully implemented  on 29 March 2019 as the law states. Mrs May lost the support of 200 Conservative MPs when she proposed a delay in Brexit in Parliament last week. The EU can see from that vote she does not even  speak for her own governing party when she asks for a delay. She cannot tell us how long a delay or why!

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Jobs and pay continue to grow

Contrary to gloomy pundits the start of this year has brought more good news in the jobs market. 222,000 additional jobs were added in the last three months to end January, meaning more people with an income from employment to pay their bills and improve their lives. Pay sustained rises of 3.4%, usefully ahead of price inflation, so the average earner will have a bit more spending power as a result.

Now would be a  good time to reinforce these favourable trends. Given the growing weakness of the Euro area economy and the slowdown in China, it would be helpful if the government would tax a bit less and spend a bit more. The figures show higher tax receipts than planned. They also show continuing reductions in taxes like VED and Stamp Duty where the rates have been set too high to maximise the revenue, whilst damaging activity and putting people out of work in the affected areas.

All parties agree that the best way out of low income and poor living standards is to get a job, and the best way to get a decent job is to work up from a lower paid job. Good  employers help train an individual to realise their skill levels and therefore raise their pay. As unemployment is now quite low and as some employers are complaining they cannot attract the workers they need, it is even more imperative for companies to work with the people they have got. Value, them, train them, pay them better and get their productivity up. The UK is good at creating lots more jobs, but needs to get better at increasing productivity. The aim must be a higher  wage higher productivity economy.

Unemployment is now at a 40 year low and employment at a new high. 76% of all people of working age are in jobs.

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Maybe you cannot keep asking the same question in Parliament

The Speaker’s ruling was a good one on the government’s Withdrawal Agreement. It has twice been decisively rejected. On the second occasion the government tabled additional documents and argued it was a amended proposal,  but  many in Parliament thought the changes did not amount to much. As I wrote at the time, ask the same question and you probably get the same answer. From this clear ruling it seems the government cannot  now table the same Agreement and vote again on it before the end of this week when the PM goes to the European Council.

If she goes to the Council and gets some material change to the Agreement then she could return to the Commons next week and seek another vote. Meanwhile the ruling should also have implications for some other hardy perennials that this Parliament likes to go over and over again. Several times we have voted down staying in the customs union. We have voted down a second referendum. We have voted down the Cooper-Boles-Letwin idea of taking over the Commons agenda to legislate for Brexit delay. Perhaps now these cannot  be put again either.

It is also true that the Commons approved a motion against leaving without an Agreement. That however contradicts the legislation the House has passed, where the legislation will take precedence unless amended.

I am urging the Prime Minister to go to the Council at the end of this week and tell them we are leaving without signing the Withdrawal Agreement. I am asking her to table a free trade agreement and to invite them to talks as we leave the EU in accordance with their timetable. I do not see why the UK would seek an extension to Article 50. So far Ministers have been unable to come up with any plausible reason why the EU should grant us an extension.



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Two offers of delay

The Withdrawal Agreement is a deliberate expensive delay. It means we do not take back control of our laws, or our money or our borders for at least 21 months, and probably for 45 months under the extension built into it. That would take us well beyond the next General election, and would mean no Brexit for six and half years from the referendum!  Remain forces would be then be arguing the referendum was out of date and we have to just accept staying in. It also means trying to negotiate our eventual way out under duress, with the EU pocketing all they want in the Withdrawal Agreement and likely to demand even more sacrifices for little in return. There would also be the backstop, likely  to keep us in the customs union in perpetuity.

There is then the nebulous “long delay” of recent briefings. No time limit, no price, no legal basis has been set out, because of course there is no such agreement as yet. Does it come with continuing full membership? If so they would have to fight the European elections, which the two main  parties have no wish to do. Or would it come with some new lesser status, in which case it will need elaborate UK legislation and a new Treaty like the Withdrawal Treaty Parliament has twice rejected.?

So there we have it. An actual very expensive long delay which Parliament rejects, or a theoretical long delay which the 188 Conservative MPs who voted against delay could not accept. What a silly idea that we have to choose between a disaster and phantom.

The default option remains leaving without signing the Withdrawal Agreement, which remains the best option. Then we could get on immediately under EU rules with negotiating a free trade agreement with them. The government should table one now to avoid new tariffs and barriers if the EU agrees to negotiate an FTA.

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  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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