Mrs Maychiavelli. Has the prime minister breached the Ministerial Code?

David Dring takes a look at the potential constitutional impropriety of Theresa May’s conduct on Brexit, and considers whether she may even have breached the Ministerial Code. David is a Conservative Party member and active contributor to the Bruges Group’s Facebook discussion group. 

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair

Hover through the fog and filthy air”Macbeth, William Shakespeare

There is an unpleasant cloud of distrust hovering over Westminster.

We are now at the point in time when our prime minister and government should have been emerging triumphant from the Brexit negotiations, delivering upon a vision of a confident new global Britain. Theresa May could have been taking her place as the champion of free trade in the modern world.

But sadly this is where reality kicks in.

We could not be further from the goals outlined in Mrs May’s speeches: Lancaster House (January 2017), Florence (September 2017), and most recently Mansion House (March 2018).

The Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU), having worked for months to the guidelines outlined by those speeches, suddenly discovered that there was a new plan. The so-called Chequers plan emerged in July 2018, devised behind the backs of DExEU ministers.

Worse still, this Chequers plan was presented to Cabinet less than 48 hours before being formally discussed, barely leaving Cabinet ministers enough time to comprehend the full implications of the text. During the Cabinet discussion it was suggested that an amendment be made to one area of the blueprint, to which the PM reportedly responded, “No, that’s not possible, because I’ve already cleared it [the existing text] with Mrs Merkel.”

Unsurprisingly, both Brexit Secretary David Davis and Brexit minister Steve Baker resigned within hours of this discussion, with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson following Davis out of the Cabinet a day later.

Discussing the UK’s negotiating strategy with a foreign leader before presenting the plan to Cabinet, as well as bypassing the Secretary of State responsible for Brexit, would not only be inconsistent with the protocols of Cabinet government. It would also represent a breach of the Ministerial Code.

The UK’s lead negotiator, Olly Robbins, in his appearance before the Exiting the European Union Select Committee in July, confirmed that the Cabinet Office’s Europe Unit had prepared the Chequers plan without the knowledge of the Secretary of State, but with the full authorisation of the prime minister.

Fast forward to November and the publication of the draft Withdrawal Agreement. The old adage suggests that “history repeats itself” – and how right it was.

Just as with the previous Cabinet bounce of Chequers, the PM delivered the draft Withdrawal Agreement in a glorious 585 pages of unadulterated legal gobbledygook, and attempted to secure Cabinet approval within just hours. She despatched Secretary of State Dominic Raab to Brussels to sign off on the agreement. But Raab was not to be bounced quite so easily. Within hours, there was yet another Cabinet vacancy for Brexit Secretary.

Raab has stated his reasons for resigning very clearly in his subsequent media interviews. In particular, he cited the addition of key clauses to the agreement which he had neither seen nor authorised. If Raab’s account is accurate, it would appear that the PM again breached the Ministerial Code, by failing to consult with her Secretary of State.

This conduct has attracted the attention of a number of concerned MPs. Sir William Cash, chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, asked a series of questions to the PM throughout November following her Brexit statements to the House. Sir Bernard Jenkin did the same at the Liaison Select Committee on 29 November [at 1:23:00 in video].

However, the prime minister has thus far refused to answer or even acknowledge any question of impropriety. This has led the European Scrutiny Committee to launch an inquiry into the conduct surrounding the negotiations.

The prime minister is also under fire for refusing to publish in full the legal advice to the Withdrawal Agreement. This is likely to result in a charge of “Acting in Contempt of Parliament” to be sent to the Speaker in the next few days.

The principles enshrined in the Ministerial Code have been the cornerstone of good governance, ethics and integrity for generations. The idea that any PM would attempt to override the provisions of the Code is abhorrent.

If it is proven that this has indeed taken place, then Mrs Maychiavelli’s place in history will be assured.

Arm Yourself for the Fight for Brexit

CIB has repeatedly stated that the battle for Brexit is far from over. And so it has proven with the publication of May’s deadly deal with the EU. It is even worse than we feared. The deal will lock us in to the EU in all but name with no escape mechanism. It will be enshrined in an international treaty, so cannot be repealed or revoked without the EU’s agreement. And it will hand over important aspects of UK military policy to EU institutions.

It is therefore more important than ever that we arm ourselves with the resources to fight for the Brexit we voted for in June 2016. CIB heartily endorses the following useful resources from Brexit Facts4EU.Org.

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The Brexit Battle Pack

The Brexit Battle Pack is endorsed by 14 Brexit organisations, including CIB.

Writing to your MP or the media? Follow the Battle Pack’s essential advice to ensure you have maximum impact and successfully correct bias. The Battle Pack also contains important contact links and a large number of practical tips.

Brexit Facts4EU.Org currently have a major campaign underway as part of the Battle Pack, with simple letters that can be printed off and sent to MPs.  They are urging everyone to do this now.

Access is completely free here.

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The BREXIT INDEX

This is the most definitive, indexed source of facts on the EU and Brexit available anywhere.

It contains hundreds of factual articles, in 19 main categories and 97 sub-categories. The facts are all researched from official sources – mostly from the EU itself.

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Brexit Facts4EU.Org also has a news page where you can read their original articles each day. They are supporters of CIB and have previously published articles by our chairman Edward Spalton.

Arm yourself for the battle ahead!

Brexit Facts4EU.Org has been active since before the referendum and focuses on research, analysis, and publication of easy-to-read facts from official sources in the EU, UK and national governments, and international bodies. It does so in order to inform the debate and counter propaganda.

THE WITHDRAWAL AGREEMENT: WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

The author is a researcher on UK-EU integration issues, who wishes to remain anonymous for professional reasons

The draft withdrawal agreement is out, to much controversy. What are the possibilities for what will happen next?

The draft has gaps, so cannot be regarded as the final version. The version drawn up by negotiators is being reviewed in EU capitals. There could yet be changes if EU27 countries push for them.

Although Angela Merkel feels there is little scope for changes, the May government will be under severe domestic pressure to secure some changes so it can crow a victory of sorts. Even if the result is constructive ambiguity. Negotiators often build in some room for manoeuvre in allowing concessions.

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire has warned against unpicking in case the outcome is a worse offer. But as timescales are tight, I would only put the probability of a better deal for the UK at 5%, and a worse deal slightly less, say 3%.

How the Westminster Parliament will respond is difficult to predict, but the BBC only sees May getting around 264 votes of the 320 needed to pass the withdrawal agreement. The former DExEU Secretary David Davis foresaw an initial rejection.

Lord Mandelson predicts a hard Brexit, implying no-deal. The EU27 are desperate to avoid this, but their likely approach might be to hold firm and play chicken in the hope that the UK blinks first.

Although there is a suspicion that they would prefer the UK to remain in the EU, it might be more advantageous for them long-term to see a chaotic Brexit. Their dream might see the UK begging to return without its budget rebate and opt-outs, such as on the Euro.

The Court of Justice is due to rule on whether the Article 50 notification of withdrawal can be revoked, but as there is nothing in the treaties to suggest this, I see the probability as 1%.

The Westminster Parliament could vote to extend negotiations as a covert means of stalling Brexit. This would mean unwelcome extra work for Commission staff, and I could only see this happening if it were the sole means of avoiding a no-deal outcome. Probability: 5%.

Alternatively, the Westminster Parliament could vote for a re-run referendum, but this would be highly divisive and produce even more uncertainty. The timescale is not favourable when Electoral Commission guidelines are factored in. Many MPs would wish to avoid a popular backlash. Probability: 5%.

The Westminster Parliament could trigger a general election, but this would be unlikely under existing legislation (the Fixed Term Parliament Act). The Liberal Democrats have had recent financial problems and any party imposing an unwanted third election within four years could face an electoral backlash. Probability: 1%.

The Westminster Parliament would have to choose between passing a flawed deal with long-term consequences, and being held responsible for short-term economic disruption. It is my conclusion that a Parliament comprised mainly of MPs who backed Remain will pay only lip service to the Brexit referendum and ultimately pass a similar agreement. Probability: 60%.

Yet this is not guaranteed. The draft withdrawal agreement is highly offensive to Scottish and Unionist sensitivities and staunch Brexiteers who would run the EU’s gauntlet, hoping it blinked first. Would the EU really want to damage its trade surplus, its supply chains and its nationals working in the UK by being pig-headed? I am told that some continentals, notably Spain, have not started their no-deal preparations, so there would be serious consequences for them too.

Also, several pro-EU MPs would baulk at voting for withdrawal on any terms.

Time could run out for those expecting a typical last-minute EU compromise. I would put the probability of no-deal at 20%. This can be further subdivided depending on what exactly is meant by ‘no-deal’. In the sense of no agreement of any sort: only 5%. But a ‘no-deal plus’, which would mean no overall deal but with temporary arrangements or mitigating side deals in place, such as to provide certainty for EU nationals: 15%.

Veterans for Britain report: Chequers sacrifices British control over Armed Forces

A new briefing paper by Veterans for Britain has exposed the extent to which the government’s Chequers plan will sacrifice British control over our own armed forces.

The paper, authored by Professor Gwythian Prins, Lt-Gen Jonathon Riley CB DSO and Maj-Gen Julian Thompson CB, reveals how the UK government is planning to sign away our defence autonomy to the EU in exchange for proposed trade arrangements.

In effect, the Withdrawal Agreement and proposed Defence Treaty would keep the UK under EU power permanently – even after the end of the ‘transition period’. 

As well as the loss of autonomy involved, this will also risk fatally compromising our Five Eyes Intelligence alliance, and especially our bilateral US-UK intelligence relationship.

The Chequers plan keeps the UK signed up to EU defence and weapons development budgets. Veterans for Britain’s briefing paper reveals how the UK has reached such a perilous position, where we are close to giving away political control over large parts of defence decision-making to new EU structures. UK ministers have signed up to this position after and in spite of the referendum decision to leave the EU. Commitments handed over by ministers go beyond defence-industrial and into wider defence policy and even central financing.

Many other ex-commanders of British forces, as well as politicians and the former head of MI6 have raised their concerns about the contents of the paper.

A crucial intervention in The Times by ex-MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove plus military and academic figures, pointed out how the Cabinet Office Europe Unit, headed by Oliver Robbins, had shared information about the defence negotiating position with EU diplomats before these details and their consequences had been explained to MPs.

The situation is now urgent and approaching a crunch moment. It is essential that the completely unnecessary defence giveaways that Olly Robbins’ Europe Unit and others within government have managed to shoehorn into the negotiation proposals are erased entirely.

The EU has no business being in defence or security at all. These should be either NATO or nation-to-nation matters. In accordance with the referendum result, our future defence relationship with European partners must be via NATO and nation-to-nation arrangements, rather than shackled to EU structures.

FFL: Government’s Fisheries Bill deserves a cautious welcome

CIB affiliate member Fishing for Leave gives a cautious welcome to the launch of the Government’s Fisheries Bill, but warns that the serious threat to the fishing industry from Theresa May’s Chequers proposals remains.

The launch of the Government’s Fisheries Bill by DEFRA secretary of state Michael Gove deserves a cautious welcome.

The government’s announcement said:

‘The Fisheries Bill will enable the UK to control who may fish in our waters and on what terms… The Bill also gives the UK the power to implement new deals negotiated with the EU and with other coastal states and manage fisheries more effectively and sustainably in future.’

At its heart the Bill seeks to deliver the following:

  • Controlling access – by ending current automatic rights for EU vessels to fish in UK waters.
  • Setting fishing opportunities – by proposing powers to ensure that the UK can set its own fishing quota and days at sea.
  • Protecting the marine environment – by ensuring fisheries management decisions are taken for the benefit of the whole marine environment

Many who have fought for 25 years to escape the disastrous CFP thought we would never see this day.

We never thought we would see legislation which would allow Britain to take back control of our waters, £6-8bn of our resources, and decide access and management for our own national benefit – as Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands do.

That is hugely welcome, but it is the devil in the detail which we fear. As the government admits, this bill is subject to the wider negotiations.

Negotiations where – disgustingly – Theresa May proposes to re-obey the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) after Brexit with an ever-extending ‘transition period’ and a Chequers plan that will see the UK obey a so-called ‘common rule book’ – probably forever.

The fishing industry and Fishing for Leave have warned that, with much of the industry already struggling, continuing CFP policy for the transition would finish many off.

The transition would allow the EU to enforce detrimental rules to cull the UK fleet. This would allow the EU to use Article 62.2 of UNCLOS to claim Britain’s ‘surplus’ resources that a shrunken British fleet would not have the capacity to catch.

The Fisheries Bill may set in place the legislative ability for Britain to independently take back control, but it doesn’t look like happening soon – which is disastrous.

We also reiterate our grave concern and continue to lambast the failed proposal to address discarding of fish above quota limits whilst keeping the fundamentally flawed quota system that causes the discards.

The government proposes using our repatriated resources to give extra fishing allowances to vessels, so they have enough quota for all species and therefore will not need to discard.

However, this extra will not be allowed to be profited from – it must be landed for free.

All this will do is perpetuate a race-to-fish. Vessels will have to catch more and more to find what they can profit from. Instead of discarding, they will have to land mountains of fish for free.

We have told DEFRA that this will fail spectacularly. Sadly our advice seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

Brexit through the looking glass

David Dring, Conservative Party member and active contributor to the Bruges Group’s Facebook discussion group, infiltrated the so-called ‘People’s March’ on Saturday in a bid to better understand the mentality of those seeking to undermine the referendum result.

It’s not often that you get the opportunity to march with so many. It’s even rarer that you get to march with so many with whom you categorically and fundamentally disagree.

In a bid to better understand the mentality of those ‘Ultra Remainers’ seeking to undermine the referendum result, I took advantage of one of the 120 coaches put on for the so-called ‘People’s March’. I travelled down to London under an assumed name, so as not to alert the organisers to my true position on Brexit.  I had no wish to be deposited on the hard shoulder of the M1.

The composition of my coach was really a mix: academics, students, NHS workers… although I did spot a couple sporting their Chelsea football shirts, who I am convinced were just freeloading transport for the early kick off. There was a genuine feeling of excitement, but also some doubt among the participants as to how successful the march could be, given the almost impossible timetable to hold a second referendum prior to the 29 March 2019 deadline.

What was most striking was the lack of substance in the various debates going on up and down the coach.  I did not hear a single person make a positive case for why we should remain a member of the EU.

In fact, these hardcore Remainers were surprisingly Eurosceptic. There was widespread acknowledgement of the flaws of the European project: the CAP, CFP, general mismanagement and wastefulness of resources. Overwhelmingly, the consensus was that we needed to remain a member to reform the EU from within.

This, of course, wilfully ignores the fact that this is just what we have tried and failed to do in 45 years of EU membership. Mrs Thatcher’s quote from 2002 remains just as relevant today: “Europe as a whole is fundamentally unreformable.”

And so on to the march itself. Breaking away from my coach party, I tried to engage and speak with a variety of people, and ask them why another referendum was necessary.

The responses I received were generally the same tired arguments that have been regurgitated over the past couple of years. The Leave campaign lied. The Leave campaign overspent their budget. The Russians rigged the referendum. We will all be worse off and many will lose their jobs. Northern Ireland will become a war zone again. All flights will be cancelled and we won’t be able to have foreign holidays. We will lose our citizens rights in a race to the bottom. Nobody voted to be poorer. And, of course, everybody’s favourite: Brexiteers didn’t know what they were voting for.

When confronted with a more sophisticated answer, I tried to probe a little deeper. “What rights will be lost, given that on Brexit day, all existing EU law will be transposed to UK law?” I asked. “If these laws are then subsequently changed in Westminster, isn’t that a proper use of our democratic process? And if we don’t like the new outcomes, we have the opportunity to vote against the party inflicting the changes at the subsequent election.”

Nobody really provided a satisfactory response to this.  A couple inferred that the Tories would use it as an excuse to slash regulation, depriving workers of their rights, but could offer no actual examples of any minister indicating any changes of this nature.

At least the two SNP-supporting ladies I spoke to acknowledged that the centralisation of power in Brussels does not seem to be consistent with the agenda of expanding Scotland’s devolved powers. The sheer hypocrisy of the SNP’s position on independence and EU membership is plain for all to see – even its own members, it would seem.

People’s Marchers also seemed not to have given any thought to the fact that the EU is constantly evolving – and always in the federalist direction of ‘ever closer integration’. Jean-Claude Juncker quite openly stated in his recent State of the Union address that, “We must complete our economic and monetary union,” and chillingly, “we should be able to decide on certain tax measures by qualified majority.” Juncker’s proposed EU Army – which Nick Clegg either naively or disingenuously claimed was a “dangerous fantasy” and“simply not true” – continues to be created by stealth.

Yet astonishingly given their claimed love of the EU, many of the marchers I spoke to were completely unaware of this planned future direction. Fewer still were aware of the rise of the ruthless Martin Selmayr and the scandalous circumstances surrounding his promotion to Secretary-General of the European Commission.

We are entering a critical time for the Brexit process. Our future democracy and ability to be a self-determining nation is at stake. It is vital that we do not ‘steal our young people’s future’.

A clean break from the EU and its institutions is fundamental to achieving this. Based on the evidence of those I spoke to at the ‘People’s March’, an awful lot of people didn’t know what they were voting for in June 2016 – and it wasn’t the Brexiteers.

Photo credit: David Holt