It’s time for the UK to move back towards a Canada Plus-style agreement with the EU.
The Chequers plan is withering before our very eyes. As made clear in Salzburg last month, the EU is going to reject Chequers because it effectively seeks single market membership for goods, but not capital, people or services. Or to use the over-used phrase, it is seen as ‘cherry picking’. And as the EU always says, they will not undermine the single market by allowing countries to cherry pick the rights and obligations they like.
There are therefore three main directions we can take from here. The UK could, as many Leavers demand, pivot towards a “Canada Plus” trade agreement. This is going to require Cabinet intervention; the PM has tied herself to the Chequers plan that only forceful hands of other will remove them.
The issue is that time is now beginning to run out; Ministers must act soon before it is too late to steer the Government into a different direction.
It is possible to move towards a Norway model and, perhaps, permanent Customs Union membership. But this lacks the political will from all sides of politics and is less likely to be passed through the parliament. The only likely reason such a deal could be reach is if MPs believe we are heading for a no-deal Brexit. For this reason, a pivot to Norway could probably only occur from mid-November until a deal is done.
Then there’s the “blind Brexit”, in which there is a conspiracy of silence between the UK and EU about the future relationship. Warm words will be used by the Europeans to describe Chequers as a “good basis” for talks about the future. This will help get the Withdrawal Agreement ratified and, with it, £39 billion of British money transferred to Brussels.
But who knows what will happen next? What is likely is that we will be told we need to sign up to more European laws, accept European Court rulings, adopt lax immigration rules, make annual payments and even, perhaps, remain in the Customs Union after all. We will be boxed in with no way out.
This is why the agreed backstop option is so dangerous. Right now we are being made to choose between the undemocratic partition of our country, or an all-UK backstop. Later, we will be forced to choose between accepting Chequers Minus, or getting stuck with the backstop for good.
The reality is that no deal is better than partition or permanent vassalage. We must resist the backstop and move, quickly, to Canada Plus. It must be prosecuted quickly and efficiently before we sign our country up to even further democratic betrayals.