Binning the backstop isn’t nearly enough

Boris Johnson is spoiling to sell Brexit down the river.

Tom Slater
Topics Brexit Politics UK

The ascension of our new prime minister got a certain section of public-school Brexiteers rather weak at the knees. Boris Johnson’s more excitable fanboys have already compared him to all manner of historical figures – Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, even Julius Caesar. But the truth is the leader he most resembles is one Theresa May. Just look at his letter to European Council president Donald Tusk last night.

The focus of fevered commentary on both sides of the Brexit debate today has been on Johnson’s demand that Brussels get rid of the Northern Ireland backstop – the protocol in Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement which says that if no deal is reached to keep trade flowing freely over the Northern Irish border, then the entire UK would be kept in the Customs Union and Northern Ireland would be bound by Single Market rules, all with no unilateral right to leave.

Now, getting rid of the backstop is essential. If activated it would tip the UK into an arrangement worse than EU membership. We’d be bound by EU rules and institutions with even less control over them than we had before. This would reduce Britain to the status of an EU colony, all for the sake of avoiding a ‘hard border’ that Ireland, the EU and the UK all do not want, and which all parties have promised never to erect.

But what is more significant about Johnson’s letter is what it didn’t mention. Because the backstop is just the start of what is wrong with the Withdrawal Agreement and its accompanying Political Declaration. As Martin Howe QC argues, the deal, even without the backstop, would perpetuate the jurisdiction of the ECJ, lock us into state aid and competition rules, and mandate fishing quotas. So much for taking back control.

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has called this ‘a deal a nation signs only after having been defeated at war’. He’s not wrong. The supposedly neutral arbitration panel envisaged in the agreement would also be bound by ECJ rulings. ‘The only places so far where the EU has been able to impose this dictatorial solution has been on the desperate former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia’, notes Howe.

None of this is mentioned in Johnson’s letter. Plus it remains to be seen whether his anti-backstop bluster is just an opening salvo – and if the bigger goal is a compromise, a time limit or exit clause. Regardless, the best-case scenario he is setting out here is a deal that bins the backstop but keeps all the other humiliating May-era measures. Polishing the turd. Dolling up the pig. Pick your cliché, but that’s all that’s on offer.

Yes, the government is making No Deal preparations a priority. That is now our only viable path to a clean-break Brexit, and perhaps the EU’s swift rejection of his letter is some bleak grounds for optimism that that’s where we’ll end up. But whether Johnson has the steel to take us out with No Deal, and whether parliament will let him, are open questions. After all the broken promises of the past few years we’d be mad to be complacent.

What we do know is that Johnson is convinced that it is by preparing for No Deal that you get a deal. He says it every time a microphone is put in front of him. And the deal he seems to want would be a betrayal of what the 17.4million voted for. The Brexit vote was a demand for more control, and a rehashed May deal would trade that away. Whatever happens now, he clearly doesn’t have a clue what Brexit really meant.

For all the talk of Caesar, as ever it is the public who look like they’re about to get knifed.

Tom Slater is deputy editor at spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_

Picture by: Getty.

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Marvin Jones

26th August 2019 at 4:18 pm

How many times has Boris ranted that the “WA” was dead in the water? several, many? So now, without the backstop, we can witness another resurrection of the rest of this eternal captivity and enslavement. This guy will prove a bigger illiterate dope than May.

Puddy Cat

21st August 2019 at 3:36 pm

I love the new pragmatism, energy, verve. I think of Nelson not settling for the conventional line of battle echoing the British liveliness of spirit and that lovely ad-mixture of the restlessness. Britain is a fidget that while being offered a bromide and an afternoon of television chooses a chotapeg and a compulsive search for something active and exercising. Boris gives me hope. He has already chased the old guard from the temple and alighted on so many topics that were hitherto hidebound by conventional austerity. I would follow him to the ends of Whitehall.

Marvin Jones

26th August 2019 at 4:11 pm

WOW! naïve beyond words, trusting a kiss from a Kimodo dragon, surfing on a tsunami wave. You can’t be well.

Ven Oods

21st August 2019 at 2:04 pm

Caesar? That’s a laugh. Boris in his crumpled suits always reminds me of:

“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Dominic English

21st August 2019 at 1:20 pm

My fear is that at the last minute the EU offer ‘talks’ about the backstop if we ‘delay’ Brexit for ‘a few weeks’ and the whole thing gets kicked Into the long grass again.

Jim Lawrie

27th August 2019 at 5:25 pm

IMO it is a national ballot that they want to delay. The “government of national unity” could be a long one. They will transfer as much power as possible to The EU, and agree that joining the Euro was a bargain price for re-admission. After they have paid it.

I wonder will Boris delay The Party Conference, or stop undesirables attending?

John Millson

21st August 2019 at 8:25 am

”And the deal he seems to want would be a betrayal of what the 17.4million voted for.” What, each and every one of the Hallowed ‘17.4’ consciously voted to leave the Customs Union, Single Market; close the borders to Freedom of Movement etc…in one fell swoop? Anyone with common sense could see that wasn’t going to be possible – it would require a planned process, a transition. The EU may have been the ‘mortal enemies’ of a few, but for the majority it would be accepted that leaving was probably going to be protracted and yes, messy – you know, like real life, major change can be.
Astounding wilfull ignorance and belligerence on the part of the ERG, the actual ‘betrayers’ of this country.

Marvin Jones

28th August 2019 at 1:27 pm

You very conveniently have a mental myopic reality of some facts that have taken place in the last few years which gives you the reason to feel like you do. The referendum did take place, the result which you refuse to accept (intellectually) was to leave. Then the rot began with the creation of how many types of leave there are, and the moving of hell and earth to deprive the democratic vote of a majority of the voters. But you and your arrogant ilk would so much have preferred to carry on ruling the plebs and the peasants with your own brand of the most phoney and bogus type of democracy ever interpreted by the traitors of real democracy, if it ever existed.

Philip Humphrey

21st August 2019 at 7:52 am

My worry is that Boris hasn’t asked for enough in his initial gambit. There is the little matter of the £39 billion that Boris should have taken off the table completely unless we get a lot for it. Come September when Remainer plots in parliament fail, my worry is that the EU will fold, but they’ll only come halfway and Boris will come under intense pressure to give in.


20th August 2019 at 10:36 pm

When will the British public learn that the real ‘enemy of the people’ is the Londoncentric, privately educated elite, the old aristocracy and monarchy? Why do the English and Welsh continue to blame the EU for their own structural inequalities? The UK is the most centralised state in western Europe and with an unelected aristocrat as its head of state it is in no position to lecture other Europeans about ‘democracy’.



20th August 2019 at 10:33 pm

Brexit, not EU membership, is diminishing our international soft power and economic standing. By leaving the EU, the UK is effectively handing the rest of the EU over to Germany. As a full Member State of the EU, the UK is able to exert significant influence within Europe and globally. The solution to Brexit is revoke Article 50 and reform the EU from within by making the EU Parliament, and not the Commission, sovereign.


Neil McCaughan

21st August 2019 at 10:00 am

The sandwiches, will no one think of the sandwiches?

Marvin Jones

26th August 2019 at 4:25 pm

You have more of a chance to prove the existence of god.

Michael Lynch

20th August 2019 at 9:14 pm

The only concern that Boris has is to save the Tory Party from wipeout. It’s a balancing act – he has to convince the voters that if they lean toward the BP then there’s a possibility that Labour would win a GE because the Tory vote would be split. He has also got to try keep Tory Remainers on side etc in case of a no confidence vote. If the people still want to Leave then they’ll have to hold their noses and all vote for the BP in the next GE I’m afraid.

Tom Carver

20th August 2019 at 8:33 pm

You underestimate Boris Johnson but he is the only politician today who can actually deliver a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. The EU will never allow an open border, so I really think that his focusing on the backstop is just to appear reasonable and willing to compromise when parliament attempts to take him down in September. His next step will be to call an election for November and we will leave by default.

Neil McCaughan

20th August 2019 at 8:11 pm

Johnson has had plenty of opportunities for declaring May’s monstrous W.A. dead. He has chosen not to.

Never, ever trust a Tory.

John Fletcher

20th August 2019 at 7:40 pm

Boris has bottled it. He clearly said, obviously in error, when asked in a TV interview in N.I. that the backstop was dead and the WA was dead. He must have selective amnesia because his limp-wristed letter to Tusk is a million to one miles away from that position. He’s not known as Boris the bullsh**ter for nothing. He just adopts the three monkeys position and it’s looking like he’s going to be a worse PM than Treason May and I never thought I could comprehend myself envisioning anyone worse than her! How he’s managed to achieve that in just a few short weeks is beyond credibility and only a buffoon would have written that letter. No, a baboon could probably have written it better. A deal with the EU will only be acceptable on the terms they dictate!! I didn’t go to Eton or have an expensive education but the village idiot could have worked that out by now. Come on Boris get with the programme so shape up or ship out and cut the BS your fooling no one!! And as for his advisers being the second Cummings if that’s the best shot across the EU’s bows they can come up with then it’s little wonder they don’t take us seriously!!

Marvin Jones

26th August 2019 at 4:34 pm

If you read my little contribution, you would think that I copied yours. Johnson has got his impossible dream, now comes the biggest con this country has ever known. We are remaining, the money will be paid, and free movement of people will be thriving, because the greatest smuggling con called the backstop can’t happen without it. Watch the population double in 20 years.

Ashley Giles

20th August 2019 at 7:09 pm

Please ensure No10 read this piece.
I wrote time & again to my MP to say no, the WA was appalling in total and worse than remaining in the EU. He didn’t seem to get that point.

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