To great fanfare it was announced this morning that the EU and UK negotiators had agreed the wording for the post withdrawal political framework document and that it had received agreement in principle from the politicians – but the question is, will we ever get there?
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So a post Brexit political framework declaration between the UK and EU to apply after the UK has withdrawn from the EU, has taken another step towards being signed off by both sides.
Now, to be clear, we're not talking about the withdrawal agreement itself, this is something else.
There are two items going through the negotiating mill at present. The highly discussed legally binding 585 page withdrawal agreement and the lesser known 26 page future relationship declaration, which is blue-sky, woolly, aspirational and, most importantly, not legally binding.
In basic terms the withdrawal agreement covers the bit from Brexit day on 29th March 2019 to the end of any transition or implementation phase, however long that lasts and we will be bound to it by law. While this is going on the future relationship will be hammered out by UK/EU negotiators based on that later loose future relationship declaration, with no promises.
But the future relationship itself will not start until the withdrawal agreement has run its course.
As already stated, the 585 page withdrawal agreement will, if voted through by both sides, be legally binding. But the future relationship declaration will not be – that will lead in far down the line, to another legally binding document possibly a treaty.
So, we will be legally bound into all the terms of the withdrawal agreement, but have no way of holding the EU to anything in the future relationship declaration.
But worse than that, it looks like the withdrawal agreement could well lock the UK into a permanent transition with no way out anyway.
On top of that, the EU will have absolutely no reason to release us from that transition phase until the Eurocrats want to.
An expert in this field, barrister Martin Howe QC, has given his legal verdict on Theresa May's Brexit Withdrawal Agreement in the Spectator and he says that 'we will be bound as vassals to the EU indefinitely'.
So, given that assessment, why does it really matter what is contained in this 26 page non legally binding political declaration? It looks like window dressing to me.
In his assessment Martin Howe says that the UK will be locked into the terms of the withdrawal agreement customs union until the EU allows us to replace it with another agreement. But why would they do that unless it was even worse for the UK than the withdrawal agreement itself.
And he says this makes it unique among trade treaties as there is no unilateral 'get out clause' and that people who claim we can just sign up now and sort it all out later "are being ignorant or disingenuous".
He points to Article 185, which says that the Irish backstop to a backstop will apply once the transition phase ends and at that point the EU will be able to veto any move we make to leave that transition phase customs union.
Further, all we will be entitled to is to be informed of decisions the EU makes in sufficient time for us to align ourselves with that decision, under Annex 2 Article 3(4).
Theresa May and the Eurocrats will now be trying to hurry all this along, getting it past all the hurdles as quickly as possible in the hope no-one who actually votes on this stuff on our behalf i.e. our MPs will catch on.
She will wave the 26 page non-binding wafty political declaration above her head and say, just sign up to the 585 page legally binding withdrawal agreement and we can start working on this our future.
Omitting to mention that it would take a miracle to actually get out of the withdrawal phase in the first place unless we either sign up to a worse deal or more probably try to re-enter the EU.
But of course the EU would then ensure that re-entering was on their terms, with the euro, Schengen and handing over our armed forces and foreign policy, as well as our seat on the UN security council were all on the table and then there's our fishing grounds and maybe oil and gas fields too, who knows?
And EU member states would be keen to exact a heavy price from the UK for this. As a new entrant, which we would be, has to be agreed by them unanimously. So for example, Spain would say, only if you surrender Gibraltar to us will we allow your re-entry.
And all the while the EU can impose laws and rules on the UK that could well damage our own vital interests in such areas as financial services.
As Martin Howe says, just as we are doing we currently have the right to leave the EU under Article 50 giving two years notice, but this legally binding withdrawal agreement would give the UK no rights to leave at all!
The only right in existence, would be the right of the EU to impose permanent vassalage on the UK.
If this withdrawal agreement is put before them, our politicians must vote it down or go down in history as the parliament that gave the UK and its people away to a foreign power.