STEPHEN GLOVER: Flawed, yes, but this deal will give us Leavers much of what we wanted — and may heal a divided nation
After a mammoth Cabinet meeting, Theresa May has avoided a mass walk-out over a Brexit deal.
For now, the Government will present a united front to Parliament and the country.
But there remain vast impediments — unquestionably in Britain, and possibly in some EU countries — to this deal’s acceptance.
Over the coming weeks we will be bombarded with a maelstrom of conflicting arguments.
Theresa May speaking outside 10 Downing Street after a crunch Brexit deal meeting with Cabinet ministers which ran late into last night
Former Transport Secretary Jo Johnson speaks to Gary Lineker during a pro-remain rally which rejected the Prime Minister’s deal
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We may assume that the majority of the parliamentary Labour Party will vote against.
So, almost certainly, will a number of Tory Remainers, including characters such as the ambitious Jo Johnson, who resigned as a middle-ranking minister last week.
Meanwhile, Scottish Tory MPs are concerned that the draft agreement may leave the United Kingdom bound by EU fishing rules. Mrs May will have to appease them if she is to count on their support.
In the end, though, the outcome of the vote will largely depend on whether enough hard-line Brexiteer Tory MPs, as well as the ten Northern Irish members of the Democratic Unionist Party, are able to swallow their perfectly understandable reservations.
I hope they will. I say this in the belief that this deal is seriously flawed. Above all, it apparently ties us into membership of the Customs Union for an unspecified period, and allows us to leave it only if the EU says we can. This is deeply unsatisfactory.
But as former Tory leader William Hague pointed out yesterday morning on the Today programme, there is a very high probability that, if they reject this outline agreement, Brexiteers will find themselves with something which they like even less.
Surely this is a time for realism. We may bemoan the way in which EU negotiators have often run rings around our own. We may chastise Mrs May for calling a general election which wiped out a Tory majority, and left the Government a less formidable partner in its talks in Brussels.
Yet we are where we are. There is no going back. Irrevocable mistakes have been made. But rather than bemoaning the inadequacies of this deal, Brexiteers should ask themselves how on earth they are going to get a better one.
For it seems there are only three plausible alternatives to what Mrs May has come up with.
One is a divisive second referendum, which might lead to our staying in the EU and, if so, would result in many millions of voters feeling bitter and betrayed.
The second alternative is that we leave the EU without any deal, and therefore with unimaginable and conceivably disastrous consequences.
Even stalwart Brexiteers seem queasy about this prospect, partly because they realise the Government has, to its discredit, made scant preparations for such an eventuality.
The third choice is a Corbyn-led administration which would be more destructive of wealth creation, and more inimical to freedom, than any government that has ever existed in this country.
The third choice: ‘a Corbyn-led administration would be more destructive of wealth creation, and more inimical to freedom, than any government that has ever existed in this country’
There are no other realistic outcomes at this stage of the proceedings. That may be regrettable, but it happens to be the case.
And since politics is the art of the possible rather than the pursuit of perfection, Brexiteers would be wise to think in practical terms.
And actually, even in an agreement deficient in some respects, there are several things that should please Leavers, and make them think the whole process has been worthwhile.
All of us who voted for Brexit should take our minds back to the heady days of June 2016, and imagine what we would have thought then if we had been presented with this draft deal.
I am sure that, like many others on our side of the argument, I would have been appalled by the idea of our being locked up in the Customs Union without any clear means of getting out.
We would have been shocked that for as long as we remain in this state we will be a rule-taker, not a rule-maker. And we would have been disappointed that dreams of striking our own trade deals have been curtailed, if not extinguished.
But I am certain most Leavers on that seemingly distant summer’s day would have been thrilled to learn that the Government has successfully negotiated an agreement which reportedly will give us back control of our own borders — and so able to regulate immigration.
Most Leavers would also have been delighted to learn that we will regain fishing rights over our own waters — if Mrs May’s pledge yesterday in the Commons is to be believed — and that the ruinously expensive Common Agricultural Policy has been successfully repudiated.
We would also have been cheered that the Government has recovered direction of our foreign policy, and that we are no longer unwilling passengers on a bandwagon heading at ever increasing velocity towards European integration.
And although I am sure most of us would have gulped at the prospect of HMG shelling out £39 billion of our money on a divorce deal, we would have been relieved that our annual net contribution of some £10 billion is coming to an end.
In other words, although Brexiteers have cause to be disappointed by some aspects of this deal, they should not, in their somewhat overdone grief, forget that it delivers many of the benefits for which they have fought over long years.
So this is my message to those who have campaigned for Brexit. This deal delivers much of what you want. Accept it. If you don’t, you are likely to end up with something far worse — which may well be nothing at all.
There is one further important consideration.
We Brexiteers always go on about the 17.4 million people who voted Leave. But we tend to forget the 16.1 million who backed Remain.
The misgivings of such a large minority should be respected, even though they were on the losing side.
It sometimes seems the most ideologically driven Brexiteers yearn for a resolution that takes no account of the reasonable fears of millions of their fellow Britons.
This is their country, too.
Boris Johnson cycles into Parliament yesterday as the Prime Minister prepared herself for crucial cabinet talks
‘Knowing Boris Johnson quite well and Jacob Rees-Mogg a little, I can’t believe that these liberal and essentially broad-minded men (yes, even Boris) really want to jettison pragmatism’
What Theresa May has produced may be a muddle in some ways. But one of its virtues is that, because it is not an extreme version of Brexit, it should appeal to many of those harbouring doubts. Who knows, it might help heal our divided country.
Shouldn’t Brexiteers, who so often champion our values, cherish the British (perhaps I should say English) quality of compromise? Our great institutions — Parliament, the monarchy, the Church of England — may once have been steeped in blood, but they have flourished because they were able to compromise.
Knowing Boris Johnson quite well and Jacob Rees-Mogg a little, I can’t believe that these liberal and essentially broad-minded men (yes, even Boris) really want to jettison pragmatism and good sense in favour of fighting in a ditch for a purist cause that is no longer achievable — if it ever was.
As for the DUP’s MPs, I have no great insight into their possibly intractable minds, but it’s hard to think they really want to usher in the IRA-loving and wealth-destroying Jeremy Corbyn.
Of course, I don’t know whether this admittedly imperfect deal will be accepted.
I just believe, with a slightly heavy heart, that it should be. And perhaps now we can slowly return to being a happier and more united people.
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