Boris Johnson: 'If UK capitulates on deal, the EU will blackmail and humiliate us'
Sometimes in politics you can face a dilemma so painful that the best thing can be to lay it out before your own constituency association, and ask for its advice. Last Friday I had the chance to do just that.
There was a chance, I said, that the UK government would ask parliament to vote for a third time on the prime minister's EU Withdrawal Agreement.
If such a vote took place, I had two options. I could either stick to my guns, or I could fold.
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I asked for a show of hands. I was struck by the near unanimity of the meeting. My constituents were strongly of the view that I should not compromise.
Why were they so adamant? I am inclined to think it is because they are all keen students of politics, and they have understood what is at stake. They can see that if parliament agrees this deal, we do not, in fact, properly leave the EU on March 29. We simply become non-voting members. We will then spend the next few years - up to the end of 2021 if necessary - trying to settle questions that we have shirked.
Every single important issue is still up for negotiation; and whether by accident or design, the UK will enter the second phase of the talks - if this deal goes through - in a position of almost unbearable weakness.
We will be legally and politically at the mercy of Brussels, since we will be obliged to accept all EU legislation during the so-called implementation period.
Worst of all, the backstop gives the EU an indefinite means of blackmail, so that it will be able to keep us locked in the customs union and large parts of the single market, unless we are prepared to abandon Northern Ireland; and it will use this blackmail to get its way throughout the negotiations, notably over the free movement of people.
If we agree this deal - and unless we have a radical change in our approach to the negotiations - we face an even greater humiliation in the second phase.
Unless we discover some willingness to resist, the diet of capitulation seems set to continue for at least two years.
Is there a way forward? Perhaps. There is an EU summit this week. It is not too late to get real change to the backstop. It would be absurd to hold the vote before that has even been attempted.
More urgently, the government could now reassure its understandably doubtful MPs by answering some basic questions about the next phase of the negotiations.
Can the PM promise that we will not become unrepresented members of the customs union and large parts of the single market?
Are we going to have full rights to make our own laws, just like any other sovereign nation? Have we really jettisoned the ludicrous and unworkable dual tariff or hybrid scheme?
After almost three years of humiliation, has the UK discovered some basic courage and belief in an open, independent, outward-looking and free-trading Brexit?
At present the answer to those questions is a resounding "no". We need some better answers and we need them this week.
Boris Johnson is a Conservative Party MP