I have looked through all 585 pages of the withdrawal agreement between the UK and EU. It makes for very sorry reading. It is ridiculous to claim that this is the best outcome for the country. This agreement is a mess.

On the one hand, it purports to deliver ‘the will of the people’. But no one ever envisaged a situation where the UK’s sovereignty would be reduced as a result of this agreement! The absurd ‘backstop’ is a legal contortion that is unprecedented in any international treaty entered into by the UK, and is a humiliation that will not go unnoticed by any country we seek to engage with in future trade deals or treaties. As a result of this abject surrender of our sovereignty, they will see their views confirmed, that we are a much-diminished power outside the EU, and in the position of a supplicant in any future trade arrangement with any reasonably advanced country. We are not ‘getting our country back’. This is not ‘independence’. Margaret Thatcher went to war to keep the Falkland Islands, while Theresa May and her government go down on their knees to sell out Gibraltar. What a farce.

Then there are the economic consequences. Theresa May tells us in her letter that her mission was to ‘…secure a brighter future for our country.’ It is inconceivable that this agreement will lead to a ‘brighter future’. It might be a little better than no deal at all, but it is still a long way short of the optimal position. The NIESR report concluded that 4 per cent will be knocked off GDP – the equivalent of the entire economic output of the City of London or Wales. The Treasury predicts that the loss will be 3.9 per cent. How can that possibly deliver a ‘brighter future’?

We can’t enter a single new trade deal until we are out of the customs ‘arrangement’ with the EU. And the very earliest that will happen is January 2021 – over two years away. In reality, striking a reasonable trade deal with the EU will probably take years longer, because no country in history has tried to enter a trade deal less advantageous than the one we already enjoy with the EU. It is unprecedented madness. The USA is ruling out any trade deal whilst we are still tied to EU product standards, as we probably will be, even after a trade deal. This ‘brighter future’ is nothing short of a confidence trick on the British people.

Now that the government looks set to lose the vote in Parliament, the only face-saving exit from this mess is to go back to the ‘people’, from whence came the vague and misinformed instruction to leave the EU. This time, the vote would be either to leave with this bad deal, leave without a deal at all, or stay in the EU. And after this vote, let’s ban any further referendums on the EU – forever! We elect our members of parliament to make complex decisions in our best interests. A referendum has no place in our parliamentary democracy. Our politicians are in a dither. We need to rescue them from the mess they have created. A people’s vote is the only way out.

Chris Counsell