Evening Standard comment: The winners and losers from this bad Brexit deal

EVENING STANDARD COMMENT

Now that the Brexit divorce deal is on offer, we can see who the winners and losers are.

First, the winners. Of course, there’s the European Union.

It never wanted Britain to leave but once the UK government triggered Article 50, its key objective was to stop us cherrypicking the benefits of EU membership while shirking the costs. It has succeeded.

During the transition period after exit, Britain is agreeing to abide by all the rules, judgments and costs of being a member of the EU as the price it pays for continued access to EU markets and security arrangements.

Another winner is Michel Barnier, who has been consistently underrated.

Downing Street told everyone it could split Berlin and Paris from Brussels. It failed. Corralled by Mr Barnier, the 27 countries and the EU institutions showed more unity than the ever-changing cast of 22 Cabinet members.

Crucially, the Commission insisted that decisions about the permanent relationship between Britain and the EU could only take place after we had left.

Theresa May, in her Lancaster House speech, said that was not acceptable — “I want us to reach agreement about our future partnership by the time the two-year Article 50 process has concluded”. A year later, there is no agreement.

Indeed, Mrs May has actively sought the vaguest possible words on a future economic partnership as the only way for her to survive politically.

All the key decisions on borders, money and laws have been parked in the future, where Britain’s hand will be even weaker.

Yesterday, Mr Barnier’s deputy, Sabine Weyand, revealed the EU’s starting-point in those negotiations: “The [UK] must align... but the EU will retain all the controls.” Anyone who thinks that won’t be the outcome has learnt nothing.

Divided union

Another winner today is the Irish government.

For a small state, it has played a blinder, making the open border with the north one of the three central EU objectives (along with the money and citizen rights).

The backstop, confirmed yesterday, preserves the Good Friday Agreement. That’s good news. For Irish nationalists, there’s also the bonus that Brexit will push Northern Ireland into an ever closer relationship with the Republic.

This is not lost on those who are fighting to keep Scotland in the UK. The Unionists of Ulster have once again achieved their historic role of undermining the Union they claim to be so attached to.

Finally, there is the British civil service led by Olly Robbins’s team and overseen until very recently by the late Jeremy Heywood.

Few of them believed privately that Brexit was a good idea; but all worked flat out to persuade the Prime Minister (once her poisonous advisers had been sacked) that a bad deal was still better than no deal. They are doing their best to save the country from walking off a cliff next March.

And the losers from this bad deal?

Well, there’s all those blustering Brexit fools who told the British public that the EU needed us more than we needed them, that the deal would be the easiest in history and we’d get our money back.

Then there’s all those naive business leaders and hedge fund managers who thought the dispossessed of our industrial towns were voting with them for Britain to become a Singapore in the North Sea.

For all these people, many of whom are now making their own commercial arrangements to flee the country, it’s not this decision day they need to worry about — but the judgment day that history will deliver.

However, the biggest loser, sadly, is Britain.

We are losing power, losing influence and losing control. We are entering the “permanent political purgatory” that the Prime Minister warned against. It is a bridge to nowhere.

There are alternatives. We could form a secure alliance with others outside the EU, such as Norway and Switzerland, by joining an EEA/EFTA arrangement. This would give our economy certainty and our country some influence.

Or we could ask the public, now that they have seen what Brexit entails, to vote again in another referendum.

If they voted Remain we would not only be signed up to EU rules but have a say over them. We’d have taken back control.

Neither of these options are being presented to the Cabinet today. But both are available to Parliament.

We hope they choose one of them.