It’s time for the Brexit party to stand aside

After two long years, MPs look set to vote for a general election, finally giving the public the chance to break the maddening impasse within the House of Commons.

In that election, the battleground will be fierce: the pro-remain campaigns will hold nothing back, seeing it as their last chance to stop Brexit.

On the Brexit side, there is reason to believe that by targeting up to 20 seats and simply standing in the rest without campaigning, the Brexit party will actually help the Tories. The logic goes that pro-Brexit Labour voters could desert Jeremy Corbyn, making it easier for Boris Johnson to return to parliament with a majority to implement Brexit.

As such, it is truly bizarre that Nigel Farage, someone who actively declares that he puts “country before party”, looks set to challenge the Tories and relentlessly attack the deal brought back by the prime minister.

It is certainly true that a lot of Brexiteers were, at first sight of the new deal, worried about the “level playing field” provisions in the political declaration. Those few lines seemed to be a real sticking point. But the narrative is misleading to say the least.

Everything that’s in the political declaration is non-binding, meaning that it’s up for negotiation in the next round of talks. If proposals are put forward that the UK finds unacceptable, the government will have the ability to walk away. However, to highlight this as an issue at all is to miss the crucial point: such commitments to fair competition aren’t unusual in trade deals. It’s easy for countries to sign up to grand, vague statements when they don’t necessarily have to follow through on them, and that’s all that’s happened here.

What’s crucial in this debate is the fact that the level playing field provisions were moved from the binding withdrawal agreement to the non-binding political declaration. The United Kingdom will have the ability to diverge substantially from the EU’s regulatory body, which is a vital step and not something to understate.

Indeed, there are more benefits which, in my view, make this new deal a good deal.

The backstop has been removed. That means that the whole of the UK will leave the customs union together. At the same time, the new proposals bring a much-needed and inevitable compromise concerning the island of Ireland.

There will be an open border, ensuring no return to the violence of the past while granting the Stormont assembly a consent mechanism every four years so that it can decide whether it’s happy with the EU’s arrangements or whether to revert to the UK’s jurisdiction.

With all of those achievements and with Jeremy Corbyn so frighteningly close to Downing Street, it would be absolutely absurd to split the vote in what is already going to be a very tough fight. Labour’s share of the vote at the last election was only 2.4 per cent behind the Conservative party’s – and complacency this time or an unwillingness to unite behind Boris Johnson could well deliver Jeremy Corbyn the early Christmas present he’s yearning for.

It would be risking Brexit, gambling away everything that many Brexiteers have long fought for, simply because of a few sentences common to every trade deal and a bill that amounts to around two years of EU membership.

Indeed, nobody is claiming that the deal is perfect, but it does take the whole of the UK out of the single market and customs union, it does end the jurisdiction of the European court of justice, it does scrap freedom of movement, it does mean no longer sending huge sums of money to the EU every year, and it does grant the UK trade and regulatory autonomy.

If you had offered that package to the Brexit party’s MEPs three years ago, they would have been delighted.

After all, Nigel Farage has spent many years of his life campaigning to leave the EU. He should take solace in the knowledge that a Brexiteer now holds the keys to No 10 and is leading a party committed to doing just that. Or he can choose to risk it all and pave the way for a pro-EU, far-left party instead. It’s his choice.

Written by Jack Powell

Jack Powell is founder and editor of 1828.
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