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Fatigue and a re-worked deal must not be an excuse for closing down our options

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Geraint Talfan Davies

So there is a deal. Three years of chaos and a week of watching our media making bricks without straw has, supposedly, readied us for a great national exhalation of breath, before our Prime Minister, aglow with self-satisfaction, cues the applause at the achievement of a deal – any deal.

But moments of relief are just that, moments. Real consequences last a long time – sometimes a lifetime. We will not rise next week to a new Brexit-free dawn, the issue expunged from every front page and broadcast bulletin forever and a day. Even a hairline majority for this deal at Westminster – the best the Prime Minister can hope for if the DUP remains intransigent – would be only the end of the beginning.

We would then move on to a decade of further tortuous negotiation to settle the precise terms of our future relationships with Europe and the rest of the world, all the while dealing with the inevitably negative economic consequences of our chosen exclusion from the world’s greatest single market and a painful, slowly growing realisation of the weakness that will arise from our isolation.

The pathetic hubris of an erstwhile imperial power is hardly likely to cut much ice with the presidents of our former colonies, whether across the Atlantic or on the shores of the Pacific. Even at home misplaced nostalgia can nourish the soul only for so long. At some point it palls, and then reality dawns – realities like Mr Trump’s new 25 per cent tariff on Scottish, and Welsh, whisky. Classic Donald.

So, now is not the time to bow to fatigue or boredom with the Brexit issue, or to mere relief at a deal, tempting though that undoubtedly is. Let’s not fall for Johnson’s hype or any macho revelling on government benches. Let’s not rush to believe the predictable trumpeting headlines. Read the small print. At the very least let us all try to dig out the real consequences for this country.

Best not ignore the latest assessments that suggest the adverse economic impact of this deal over a 10-year period is likely to be three times worse than the Theresa May deal that was thrice rejected by the Commons – a reduction in UK GDP per capita of 7% instead of 2.3%.

Whatever its effect, a deal that could shape our future for generations, and which clearly runs right against the instincts of at least half the population, is not one to be rushed through Parliament with unconscionable speed in a half-day Saturday sitting. Neither is that a convenience that should be afforded to a Prime Minister who has resolutely avoided scrutiny since the first days of his appointment.

It would also wrong for EU leaders to seek to pre-empt a decision of the British Parliament by ruling out any extension of the Article 50 period beyond 31st October – the implication behind M. Juncker’s statement that they will ‘resist prolongation’. With luck we will find that M Juncker ‘misspoke’, for ruling out any extension would effectively force our Parliament to choose between this deal or ‘no deal’, as well as putting huge pressure on the DUP to change its current negative stance. It would not make sense for those expressing sadness at our departure from the EU, to put an obstacle in the way of a better outcome.

Tomorrow our MPs should open up democratic options, not shut them down – a new referendum best of all.  There can be no logic in voting down Mrs May’s deal three times and yet voting this one through, unless it is attached to a decision to hold a new referendum, with Remain as an option.

The DUP are not the only people who deserve a hearing. When the details of this deal are at last available, our elected representatives in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast deserve time to exercise all necessary care and vigilance and to express a view.

After all, the welcome for the deal given by EU leaders is not an affirmation that this is a good deal for the UK, or one totally devoid of pain for themselves, but rather an affirmation that it is a deal that has protected the legal and commercial integrity of the European Union – the primary aim of its negotiators.

But will it pass muster in Parliament? More than a million will throng the streets of central London tomorrow, converging to tell the world and Parliament that this deal will would be a colossal mistake for this country – a tragic wrong turn. Wales will be there in force.

The very size of the crowd will be further evidence that the government, under both Theresa May and Boris Johnson, has abjectly failed to reach out to the whole country after the narrow referendum result in 2016.

Of course, government ministers will no doubt accuse tomorrow’s marchers of intransigence and urge them to put aside their own preferences in the cause of national unity. But this is to stand the world on its head. For nothing would be more divisive for this country than a hard Brexit that would make the whole country poorer, sharply increasing inequality across classes, regions and nations. In Ireland, is the creation of two borders, where there are presently none, not divisive?

Tory self-preservation, necessitating the indulging of the Spartans of the ERG, clearly matters more to some than the preservation of peace in Northern Ireland, more than the preservation of the union with Scotland, more than any cool assessment of our trading interests and of our strategic place in the world.

And, not least, it is also blind to the interests of Wales where every single assessment tells us we will be poorer – a hit for our businesses, for our farmers, for our universities, and for families – between a fifth and quarter of whom are paid less than the official Living Wage.

Wales, more than any other part of the UK, is not a place that can afford to wait a few decades while the UK claws its way out of the economic mire to which we are now so cheerily beckoned. There is a cruel irony in the clinching of Mr. Johnson’s deal on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

Tomorrow will be a day of decision. Our elected members should take note of what is likely to be the biggest protest march London has seen since the Iraq war. It should steel our Members of Parliament to resist being boxed in by procedural sleight of hand or impossibly narrow majorities and, instead, to open up the final decision to the whole country. Let us all be heard anew.

Geraint Talfan Davies is Chair of Wales for Europe


Photo: The Guardian.