Brexit: May and Corbyn flirt with worst of all worlds – John McLellan

It’s time to put Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement to the test in a referendum, writes John McLellan.

Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: Mark Duffy/AFP/Getty Images
Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: Mark Duffy/AFP/Getty Images

Few would join a club if Rule Number One was you must pay your subs but will never have a say in how the club is run.

But that will be the upshot for Britain’s future relationship with the EU if the Brexit compromise of permanent membership of the customs union and single market in some sort of Norway arrangement is the eventual outcome of the Prime Minister’s talks with the other parties.

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This presumes that what works for a country with a smaller population than Scotland is appropriate for a G7 nation of 65 million people; bound by the EU’s rules but with no say in them, and unable to strike trade deals with non-EU countries but still handing over millions for the privilege.

If Jeremy Corbyn agrees, he will have signed away Britain’s ability to improve employment rights beyond those stipulated by Brussels.

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Apart from the growing legal view that the Irish backstop does not represent an unbreakable arrangement which a permanent customs union definitely does, one crucial difference with the draft Withdrawal Agreement is that the proposed customs alignment would not apply to services, by far the British economy’s most important sector.

The hokey-cokey plan of neither in nor out surely represents the worst of all worlds.

If the Withdrawal Agreement cannot pass through the Festival of the Egos the Commons has become, then surely the only choice must be the abandonment of Brexit or no deal.

In the absence of a Commons majority for either and Europe unlikely to want to force no deal, the only way through still looks like the Withdrawal Agreement plus a confirmatory referendum.

After all the drama of the past fortnight, where it has been all ebb and no flow, a solution is as far away as ever.

Last week I wrote that I doubted the indicative votes would give us clarity and neither they did.

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A fortnight ago, I said that the Withdrawal Agreement plus a vote was my best guess at a solution but I had no idea how or when.

As the Prime Minister once said, nothing has changed, nothing has changed.