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James Gray's 1st February 2019 newsletter and my response are reproduced for rudloescene readers below

Dear Constituent,

Odd things, dreams. I woke up on Monday morning absolutely determined to back Graham Brady’s amendment to the debate on Tuesday. He called for the PM to return to Europe and demand a fundamental change to the Backstop arrangements, which was pretty much my own view. So I told the European Research Group via their WhatsApp, that that was what I was planning, and the whole world fell in on my head. I had phone calls from the very great, counter briefings, words of warning. I was one of only 15 people supporting the amendment; it was selling out; it could not get through; the DUP would not like it; we have an alternative plan etc.

But I ploughed ahead, seconded the Brady amendment, spoke at the ERG meeting in support of it (to a less than enthusiastic audience), did a bit of media and canvassed my friends and colleagues. Slowly but surely people came to realise that the deal – bad as many parts of it are – could just be tolerated if we could get rid of the backstop and that the Brady amendment just might be the way to do that. And at all events, opposing a motion which seemed at least on the face of it to be calling for exactly what we wanted would have been viewed as a little odd. During Tuesday more and more colleagues came round to that view, and of course we won the amendment in the end by 16 votes.

So now the PM has to go back to the EU and reopen the negotiations seeking a legally binding alternation to the backstop provisions. We gave her a means of doing so with the so-called Malthouse compromise, and we have done a lot of work on electronic alternatives to a hard Irish border. So we have the solutions for her, but she must now persuade the EU to accept them.

If they do not do so, then we will all know who to blame. The Conservative Party - and Parliament - came together to propose a solution to recent gridlock; we know what we want; we want a deal without the most obnoxious part to it. The EU must now step up to the mark. If they do not do so (and we will have another ‘meaningful vote’ on whatever they agree to later this month) - then they cannot be surprised if, come 29th March, we leave without any kind of agreement at all (which, of course, no-one wants.) The ball is now firmly in their court. I hope that they will enter into the spirit of the game.

So I am proud that - thanks apparently to inspiration in a dream - I helped persuade the ultra-sceptical 80 or so members of ERG to swallow their reservations (at least for now) and support the Brady amendment. As a result, we have a direction of travel which the whole Conservative Party and Government supports. With luck and a following wind, the EU will do what we want, and we will finally be able to leave the EU on 29th March with a clear agreement of the way forward.

I was but a small pawn in a big game, but on this occasion (rather immodestly) hope that I played a relatively decisive role in it. I am proud to have played some part in unlocking the Parliamentary gridlock, and therefore some little part in helping us towards leaving the EU.

I hope I am not being like Spike Milligan, whose Autobiography was immodestly entitled ‘Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall.’ ‘James Gray: How I helped Britain leave the EU.’ I hope it’s more as Shakespeare hath it, “A small thing, but mine own.”

Best wishes,

James Gray, MP for North Wiltshire

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Yours truly's response follows:

 

 

James,

Thanks for the newsletter.

After consistently 'rubbishing' Mrs May's Deal, you now propose to support it in spite of its "40 fatal flaws" (your newsletter of 20th November 2018) as long as it includes a nebulous, undefined amendment! I have spent hours trying to find out what the Brady Amendment actually proposes (* see below) and have found only the following "To require that the Northern Ireland backstop be “replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border” while supporting the notion of leaving the EU with a deal and therefore supporting the Withdrawal Agreement subject to this change". In your 26th August 2018 newsletter, you said "It seems to me that it means ‘leaving the EU’ and that is what we must now do - lock, stock and two smoking barrels. WTO is probably the best route". 

I am concerned that in spite of the sentiment expressed in your 20th October 2018 newsletter: "I remain hopeful that our divorce from Europe can be on civilised and sensible terms of benefit to both halves", you continue to use disparaging, inflammatory language about our European partners.

In your newsletter of 21st December you said "The enemy in M Barnier, and Juncker and the rest of them. They are the ones who are preventing a fair Brexit by their insistence on the wholly unnecessary backstop.  But in the speech Mrs May gave to Parliament on 10th December 2018 she said "We had hoped that the changes we have secured to the backstop ...". Note 'we' meaning your government! It was not, as you say disparagingly, "Barnier, Juncker and the rest of them".

Your newsletter of 13th December 2018, in spite of an agreement being reached over our (yes 'our') required changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, included "make them (the EU) see reason". And in the same newsletter, you said that the requirement was "a clean and straightforward break with the European Union".

In your newsletter of 21st December 2018 you said "Everywhere I go round the constituency people tell me that they want Brexit sorted; they want to fulfil the people’s expectations in the Referendum of a Clean English Brexit; they want certainty and clarity; they want an end to the national humiliation which we are suffering at the hands of the EU; and to a very significant extent, they want us to stand up to Brussels in a real way and tell them how it is". Clean English Brexit is your phrase, not one I have heard elsewhere. It's interesting that your book 'Full English Brexit' which was published in October 2018 has had sales of just one copy in three months at Corsham Bookshop indicating that the thinking people of Corsham do not share your sentiments.

Two other things also, the first of which I have mentioned to you previously, Full English Brexit is all very well but what about Scotland and Northern Ireland who voted to remain in the EU? Secondly, Full English Brexit was a track on Billy Bragg's album 'Bridges not Walls' which was released in the autumn of 2017 - it seems that you have taken your book's title from an ardent socialist.

Your (as indicated above) "the national humiliation which we are suffering at the hands of the EU; and to a very significant extent, they want us to stand up to Brussels in a real way and tell them how it is" is entirely from the imaginations of Brexiteers like yourself. It was our 'decision', through a flawed referendum (I'll come to this later), to leave the EU; it was our decision to enter into a 30-month period of negotiation in order to obtain a deal. We have had the great and the good of the Conservative Party haggling over this deal yet when the deal is done and signed off in law, one side wishes to renege on it. And this, according to your logic, is the fault of the EU.

Getting back to your inflammatory language, your 11th January 2019 newsletter included "the EU negotiators who were crowing this week in a German newspaper that they had ‘won’". Perhaps you could give chapter and verse on this unlikely story and perhaps the newspaper was Bild, notorious for its mix of gossip, inflammatory language, and sensationalism.

Your 17th January 2019 newsletter included "Delete the obnoxious backstop" and "That would be to ignore the will of the people so clearly expressed in the Referendum" (see below). With regard to the Backstop, Simon Coveney's (the Irish Foreign Minister and deputy Taoisach) sentiments are clear and measured. In his interview with Andrew Marr during the latter's 27th January 2019 programme, he said (apologies, this is a series of long quotes from the programme but the questions and answers are important) "It was agreed that there was a need for a fallback or insurance mechanism for the people of Northern Ireland - the Backstop is already a series of compromises designed around British red lines. It was Britain that asked that the Backstop should be UK-wide on customs. It was the UK that insisted on review mechanisms for the Backstop so that it could be changed or removed if everyone agreed. The very need for the Backstop in the first place was because the UK wished to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union as well as the EU. The Irish position is that we have already agreed to a series of compromises and that has resulted in what is proposed in the Withdrawal Agreement. Ireland has the same position as the EU when we say that the Backstop within the Withdrawal Agreement is part of a balanced package that isn’t going to change. The problem with arguing against the Backstop is that nobody yet in arguing against it has come up with a pragmatic, sensible and legally sound way of avoiding border infrastructure re-emerging between the two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland and that is why it took two years to get the Backstop agreed and why I believe that the Prime Minister is correct when she defends it. If we don’t have a Backstop, then the EU, Ireland and the UK will have to work together to try to avoid border infrastructure but that will not be easy. There is no magic solution here. If there was, it would have emerged by now and that is why Ireland will insist on the UK keeping its word both to Ireland and the EU and to the people of Northern Ireland in terms of protecting a fragile but hugely valuable peace process. Don’t forget, Brexit is not an Irish policy; these are decisions that are being taken by the UK that are causing huge problems on our island, north and south, and there is an obligation on people to have pragmatic solutions here rather than wishful thinking in relation to border infrastructure".

Andrew Marr then asked: "We are where we are. To be absolutely crystal clear, if the House of Commons votes next week to remove the Backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement and to find alternative arrangements, your reaction will be that the Withdrawal Agreement is, in effect, holy text and cannot be touched?"

Simon Coveney responded: "That is like saying to Ireland that we are not now going to follow through on our commitments to a negotiated and sensible way forward to prevent border infrastructure re-emerging in any circumstances as an insurance mechanism and we’re going to replace it with an aspirational hope and a commitment that somehow will solve this but we don’t know how. Is it reasonable to ask people north and south on the island of Ireland to actually move ahead on that basis. I don’t think it is and I don’t believe the EU will support that approach at all".

Andrew Marr: "And therefore, again to be clear, you don’t think the EU or the Irish government would accept a British escape clause from the Backstop or a time limit to it?"

Simon Coveney responded: "There is already a review mechanism for the Backstop if there are sensible ways of providing the same solutions that the Backstop provides (if it is ever triggered). People keep talking about games of chicken and of the UK position being against the Irish or the EU position; we’re all trying to work together here. Britain and Ireland are two islands next to each other; we have an extraordinary history together, at times a very tragic history but we have to work out those things together and stop talking about games of chicken. We’ve had 30 months of negotiation; we have a withdrawal agreement; we have a future relationship declaration. There are ways of resolving these issues, in my view, by changing the aspirations within the future relationship declaration which will reassure people that the Backstop is never likely to be used. That is the way I hope those negotiations will go, rather than the British parliament deciding on something that may command a majority in Westminster but has no chance of getting agreement or ratification in the EU. Listen to what people are saying in Europe; this isn’t just about Britain’s future, it’s about our future together, the UK and the EU separate but at the same time working together in our combined interest. The European parliament will not ratify a withdrawal agreement that doesn’t have a Backstop in it, it’s as simple as that".

Andrew Marr asked: "As I understand it, you’re ruling out a time limit to the Backstop and a unilateral British escape clause, so I’m running through the options. One is a separate, individual treaty between Ireland and the UK to resolve the Irish border issue. What about that?"

Simon Coveney responded: "With respect, you’re talking about this as if we’re starting the negotiations again. All of these issues were debated, discussed and argued over when we were putting a Withdrawal Agreement and an Irish Protocol to the agreement together. We teased through these issues in great detail and your prime minister signed up to the Backstop as a compromise which was designed around her and Britain’s red lines and now you’re saying “Well actually we’ll accept a Withdrawal Agreement as long as we take out the compromises that the EU was willing to make. That is a wholly unreasonable position."

Again, apologies for the inordinately long quotes from Andrew Marr's programme but they set out an altogether reasonable position in the kind of language that you said "I remain hopeful that our divorce from Europe can be on civilised and sensible terms of benefit to both halves" that you wanted but have not, yourself, used.

"So clearly expressed in the Referendum" you say. When it comes to constitutional amendments, the United States requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress followed by ratification by three-quarters of the state legislatures. But our then prime minister, autocratically, decided that the immense constitutional issue of our EU membership should be delegated to the people in a simple remain/leave referendum, with no precautionary measure. Not only was there no need for such a referendum in the first place but with no precaution in place, a majority of one would have been enough to trigger the process of leaving the EU. Quite ridiculous. And now, with the experience of the last 30 months and with changes in the demographic and, perhaps, changes in attitude, another vote could well go with remain. But either way, this is no way to run a railroad (as someone once said) never mind a country.

Phew, that's my piece said for the time being - People's Vote I say.

Regards


Paul
Paul Turner

 

* Apparently the Brady Amendment is based on a Plan A and a Plan B which together form a Plan C known as the Malthouse Compromise. Detail of the plans and analysis by Dr Sylvia de Mars, an EU and international law specialist in the House of Commons Library, may be found here: The Brady Amendment

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