The EU 27 is triumphant, its super-smart negotiators have outfoxed the ‘Rolls-Royce’ brains in the Foreign Office, reducing the UK to a province of its empire, and its government to a rabble.
So runs the official EU version. Its tripe. Whitehall-in Brussels is a pillar of the EU empire. Since 1972, when the Heath government brought the UK into the then EEC, with the backing of the Jenkins-wing of the Labour party, the UK has been officially more supranational than the Pope.
The problem has always been that the electorate of the UK never bought into official doctrine. What voters favoured is close co-operation with European constitutional democracies, where national electorates would be able to sanction their legislators at the ballot-box.
But EU-membership does not allow for that. All 170,000 pages of the EU’s corpus juris have been negotiated over decades, behind closed doors in Brussels, and then implemented in the UK, bypassing parliament, and granting civil servants extensive powers to elaborate secondary legislation.
When Prime Minister Cameron proposed handing powers back to national parliaments, the answer in Brussels was more centralisation. The EU’s ideas of returning powers was that if 16 national parliaments formed a coalition against an EU proposal, the Brussels authorities would consider it.
What the referendum of June 2016 has revealed is that a very large chunk of the British electorate does not like their country being a province of an EU empire. What they want is to be able to sanction their legislators at election-time.
They cannot sanction Brussels. From its inception, the EU edifice has been created to keep voters at bay. The battle of politics carries on within the member states, but to less and less effect as ever more powers have been syphoned off to the EU institutions.
Since the 2016 referendum, there can be no concealing what Heath did to the UK’s constitutional arrangements all those 47 years ago. The draft Withdrawal Treaty reveals without any question of doubt that the UK is legally a province of the EU.
Heath declared, passionately, that the days of the nation state are over. May’s Treaty makes that apparent.
The true story of Brexit, contrary to the EU27’s triumphant narrative, is that the EU’s chief negotiator, Michael Barnier and his team succeeded in bringing the UK to heel, with the help of the Remainers. Chief among these was May.
May could have opted for very different outcomes. She could have gone for UK membership in the European Economic Area, the arrangement created in 1994 to incorporate Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway into the single market. UK-based companies trading in the EEA would have been bound by EU regulations and laws. But the EEA would have made the Irish border question easier to handle; and the UK would have repatriated farm and fisheries policy, greatly reduced its budgetary contributions and be free to make trade deals with third partners.
She chose not to. Why? The answer is simple: she put party cohesion before country. That meant trying to win the support of the three Tory factions in the House of Commons: hard-core Remainers; the half-in-half outers, which she claimed to prefer; and the hard-core Brexiteers.
Most importantly she never ever contemplated revising the 1972 European Communities Act, or binning it, prior to the opening of negotiations. The result is she went into the talks in early 2017 with an official policy that held that EU law trumps UK law. All that Michel Barnier, the chief EU27 negotiator, had to do was to hang tough.
She then yielded on all of the major demands of the EU27. When she begged for some wiggle room, the EU27 declined. The result was a Withdrawal Treaty that submits the UK indefinitely to the supremacy of the European Court of Justice.
The EU27, and May, signed off the draft Treaty on the assumption that the Commons would rubber stamp what in effect was a surrender document. By now, she had switched from Prime Minister to her new role as the EU’s Governor of its rebellious province of Britain.
But May cannot deliver parliamentary ratification of her “deal”. Her problem has been that that the Remainer majority of MPs are only too aware that 60 to 70% of their constituencies voted in June 2016 for a return to constitutional government.
So when May submitted the draft Treaty to the Commons in January 2019, the MPs voted it down by a record majority. If traditional UK parliamentary conventions still held, the draft Treaty would be dead. Instead, she has flouted UK parliamentary conventions to get the EU27’s draft treaty onto the books.
The beneficiaries in the UK have been those parties which stand clearly for Remain or Leave. The Remain parties, the Lib Dems and Change UK, are clear what they stand for but they face an uphill task in selling a supranational EU to a skeptical UK public.
Leavers have the wind in their sails because they alone answer the central constitutional question: Who governs? After withdrawal, the UK, the Brexit party states, shall not ‘make any Treaty or join any international organisation which involves in any way the surrender of any part of the United Kingdom’s sovereignty’.
The Brexit party wants the UK to be able to say No. The Barnier-May draft treaty illustrates that it can only say Yes to whatever Brussels proposes. That is a case of imperial overreach, not a triumph of skilled diplomacy.