Jim Allister: Changes to Brexit deal ‘spin and guile’
Jim Allister has dismissed the so-called legally binding changes to the prime minister’s Brexit deal as “spin and guile which signifies nothing”.
Theresa May insists she has secured “legally binding” changes to the withdrawal agreement deal which ensure the backstop cannot be permanent.
Following last-ditch talks in Strasbourg ahead of a crunch Commons vote on today, Mrs May said she has now delivered what Parliament asked her to do.
The PM believes the three new documents agreed with the EU will give MPs the legally-binding reassurances they require to approve her withdrawal agreement and political declaration on the future EU/UK relationship.
The first is a “joint legally binding instrument” on the withdrawal agreement which the UK could use to start a “formal dispute” against the EU if it tried to keep the UK tied into the backstop indefinitely.
Mrs May said this has the same legal status as the withdrawal agreement.
The second new document is branded a “unilateral declaration by the UK” which sets out “the sovereign action the UK would take to provide assurance that the backstop would only be applied temporarily”.
The final document is a supplement to the political declaration “setting out commitments by the UK and the EU to expedite the negotiation and bringing into force of their future relationship”.
However, TUV leader and barrister Mr Allister said the new documents create “no changes” to the backstop.
“No one should be deceived into thinking that the new proposed ‘instrument’ changes one word of the withdrawal agreement, or its backstop,” the North Antrim MLA added.
“The instrument is clear in its own preamble as to the limitations on its worth. It constitutes a document of reference that will have to be made use of if any issue arises in the implementation of the withdrawal agreement. To this effect, it has legal force and a binding character.
“So at its height it is a ‘document of reference’ to which regard will be had in any interpretation issue relating to the Withdrawal Agreement, and that is the only sense in which it has any legal effect or standing.
“It creates no change to the Backstop or alternatives to it. In short, it is essentially assurance, not alteration.”
Mr Allister added that the supplement to the political declaration “remains mere words with no legal compulsion”.
“I therefore fail to see how any MP who with conviction voted against the Backstop a few weeks ago could now vote for it on the basis of thus very thin gruel,” he concluded.