There is only one word required to sum up the agreement announced between the UK government and the European Union and it is to describe it as a “sham”, for it is designed to do one thing only and that is to keep Theresa May as Prime Minister, for now.
This suits not just Theresa May and most of her Conservative colleagues (including those who aspire to replace her) but the EU – for it leaves them all to fight another day.
Depending on where you view it from the conclusion of the Stage One negotiations can be presented as a success, a failure, a capitulation, or a triumph. Each point of view can and will be justified by the different parties involved – and those criticising or cheering from the sidelines.
The best that can be said of it for businesses or the public is that it allows the Brexit negotiations to move on to Stage Two.
The UK has made it clear it is willing to pay the EU a sum in the region of £40bn when the EU had been asking for as much as double only a few months ago.
This might appear a success in bargaining-down our country’s future financial commitments, yet we have no itemised invoice telling the public what we are handing over taxpayers’ cash for. Any auditor would protest that any such payment must be fully transparent or be an abrogation of fiduciary duties.
The UK has agreed not just to grant rights to EU citizens living in the country (as it always said it would) but will also allow a foreign court, where we shall have no sitting British judge, to adjudicate over such rights for at least eight years.
Set against the EU’s demands for a fifteen-year jurisdiction those eight years might appear a triumph, but do we let the US Supreme Court adjudicate on the rights of US citizens in the UK?
On the Irish border question the UK government has found a forms of words that appears to satisfy the demands of Dublin – and therefore Brussels, while squaring-off the need of the DUP to maintain UK integrity.
This is the least convincing of the three for the commitment to maintain full regulatory alignment between the UK and Ireland while maintaining UK integrity is contradictory and therefore undeliverable.
It is said that were a committee asked to design a horse the result would be a camel. What we have with this Stage One agreement is a camel with three humps that is being called a horse by its designers. Theresa May is delighted with her horse because she can ride on through Christmas as Prime Minister; the EU is delighted because the nag maintains the prospect of receiving those billions while keeping alive the possibility of wearing down the British people into submitting to some form of associate membership; and the Brexiteers in the Cabinet will put on a brave face for now, for they do not wish to bring their own party’s government down.
If ever there was an example of how political parties put their own interests before that of our country, this agreement is it.
Conservatives are saying they have delivered, but it is without a critical eye to the agreement’s inherent failings; Jeremy Corbyn is saying it all could have been achieved far quicker even though Labour spokesmen have had more positions on the Single Market and Customs Union in the last year than you will find in the Kama Sutra. Nicola Sturgeon effects mock outrage, calling May’s concessions a capitulation to disguise her disappointment that any agreement makes it impossible for the SNP to whip up enough grievance to justify a second independence referendum. Maybe if the SNP had spent more money campaigning on the EU referendum than it did for a parliamentary by-election in Glenrothes the First Minister might have earned some credibility.
And yet the real truth is that the “agreement” is no such thing. The Joint Report’s own communiqué makes it clear that any future Withdrawal Agreement will be drafted using the weekend’s “deal” as a basis but also on the outcome of negotiations on other issues. It does not bind Stage Two of the negotiations to accept anything “agreed” in Stage One, everything remains up for grabs and the consequently we may yet fail to have any agreement at all – or find the UK government makes even more concessions so that it can limp on avoiding a change of leader or having another general election.
This explains why the agreement was so eagerly accepted by Conservative critics, for they believe that any final agreement can be improved or will ultimately collapse, leaving us in the default position where, having invoked Article 50, we shall then depart the EU without any agreement.
As usual our political parties all find different things to say that blame each other, for they put their own interests before that of the country.
With brilliant timing a new campaign to reduce the influence of political parties to the point where our political representatives would not need them has been launched.
Called unify-uk.org the campaign website argues convincingly how so may of our political, economic and social problems are not solved by political parties but indeed caused or made worse by them. The tribalism that forever divides us, be it Conservatives or Labour or SNP, and presents one colour as always bad or another as always good means that our MPs and MSPs are whipped to vote for policies they know to be damaging or against ideas that could work rather than work together.
Shamelessly, parties offer policies that only the year before they were castigating as dangerous because suddenly they see it as in their advantage to do so – not because any objective assessment of evidence. In the case of Brexit they are now putting their own interests before finding the best outcome.
Whichever country you believe in, be it Scotland or the United Kingdom, the tribalism of the political parties is holding us back. We deserve far better and by having more autonomous or independent representatives in parliament we will have far better decision making than we enjoy at the moment.
Brian Monteith is a director of Global Britain.