What a mess. The Prime Minister’s deal has lost support from all sides. For me a blindfold Brexit deal where we know so little about the future security and economic cooperation is too risky so I will vote against it. But whilst Theresa May’s deal doesn’t work, we cannot countenance no deal at all. For the sake of people across the country who no matter how they voted will be feeling let down by the chaos, it is time for Parliament, the Government and the EU to pause for breath and think again.
Keir Starmer has rightly said Labour MPs can’t sign up to anything if we don’t know where it is heading. The political declaration accompanying the Withdrawal Agreement on the long term relationship with the EU is just 7 pages long. If we leave with so little agreement on the future, our negotiating hand in those long term negotiations will be that much weaker too.
As Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, I am particularly concerned about the security consequences. Cross border crime and security threats are at their highest ever level. Yet whilst the political declaration includes reference to passenger name records and the Prüm fingerprints database it is ominously silent on two of the most important measures of all – the SIS2 criminal information database and getting a replica for the European Arrest Warrant.
We shouldn’t underestimate how serious this is. The SIS2 database is checked by our police, border force and immigration officials over half a billion times each year – looking for wanted criminals, terror suspects, child sex offenders or dangerous weapons. The head of the National Crime Agency has said, “If we cannot have access to these tools… There is a risk that this country is less safe as a result.”
There also isn’t a plan B. Unlike on Northern Ireland or customs there is no backstop for security in the Withdrawal Agreement. Most experts think a new Security Treaty will take years to agree and ratify, but if it isn’t completed before the end of the transition in December 2020 we have a serious capability gap.These measures save lives, stop criminals and stop terrorists. That’s why the Prime Minister of all people must know in her head and her heart that this downgrade of public safety is not in the national interest.
It was inevitable it would come to this. Theresa May’s strength is her resilience. Her weakness is her inability to consult or build consensus. She never sought Parliament’s agreement on the negotiating objectives. With no consultation she set up impossible red lines. No need even to mention the timing of Article 50 and the General Election. She hoped that if she talked tough on Europe but sought compromise she might be able to bounce something through – just as she had when she promised Eurosceptics in 2014 that she would opt out of many EU security cooperation measures only to opt straight back in again. Since then they haven’t trusted her, but nor has anyone else. Finally she hoped that by fudging the long term future deal she could persuade enough people to give her and the EU the benefit of the doubt. But there is no trust, and everyone fears the worst.
So what next? Let’s be clear, no deal is not an option and only the most reckless and dogmatic politicians would even propose it right now, even though the clock is ticking. An outcome which relies on stockpiling medicines, lines of portaloos along the M20 to support the tailbacks to Dover, and police warnings about public safety cannot possibly be a good deal for Britain.
Instead we should stop the clock. We need an extension of Article 50 so there is time to rethink and change course. The Prime Minister should start that process now. However much she wants to defend her own deal, she needs to recognise the scale of opposition and the risks to the country if she does not think again. It is impossible to predict at the moment what will happen within the Conservative Party or whether we will get the General Election Labour is calling for. But whatever happens we need more time, and the EU should recognise that it isn’t in their interests to end up with a chaos or a “No Deal” Brexit. Whatever outcome people want from all this, it’s in everyone’s interests to pause and take a deep breath. This mess isn’t helping anyone and it certainly isn’t in the national interest.