By John Longworth
Let us not beat about the bush. The transition is symbolic of the wrong-headed approach of our leaders to the leaving process.
The truth is that there was absolutely no need for a transition at all had our Government possessed the first clue about negotiating at the very beginning of the process. By defining success as a trade arrangement and, worse, as a “special and close relationship”, the EU was granted the greatest power in the negotiations, as these matters were themselves in the gift of the EU. The only leverage left to the UK under such circumstances was money and we have so far capitulated £40billion in the mode of a defeated nation.
Britain should have declared for global free trade under WTO rules, defined our post-Brexit economic model to give business and investors confidence and invited the EU to talk trade if it wished to. No need for any transition. Instead the Government crumbled before the narrow vested interests of the multinationals in the CBI and equally self-interested, anti-democratic wreckers in the political establishment.
Even having given away the leverage of leaving, the Government could have and still can play a strong hand by declaring a post-Brexit economy favourable to business and by seeking a Canada-style deal, in conjunction with a global trade approach.
A Canada deal would cover trade in at least 98 per cent of goods and 92 per cent of agriculture, there is an off-the-shelf framework and the EU has said it would be amenable to such a deal.
It could therefore be completed quickly, would require no additional funding and would facilitate a shorter transition period, only a few weeks while the deal was ratified by the EU member states. As this or a version of it remains the most likely outcome, it would be better that the Government adopt it now and provide certainty than have the negotiations rumble on to the next cliff-edge. It would also substantively solve the Northern Ireland issue.
What has happened instead is that Britain has agreed to be a rule-taking vassal state from March 2019 until the end of 2020, with no say and no legal rights to speak of. Effectively this is a delay of almost two years in leaving the EU but with fewer rights, during which anything could happen.
Furthermore, in complete contradiction to the principles of Brexit (control of money, borders and laws), we have agreed to continue with the free movement of people and we have decided to allow the EU to plunder our fishing grounds.
Worse still there are reports that our beloved Chancellor wants to trade fishing for “passporting” bankers as if they were pieces on a chess board.
What is all this for? To avoid the famous cliff-edge. And yet there will be another cliff-edge in 2020. The Government will have had two years to prepare for Brexit and so will business. Many businesses just want to get on with it and seize the opportunities. The wreckers of the CBI trade perfectly happily every day around the world on World Trade Organisation terms. These same companies conduct mergers (often value destroying) and demergers, they carry out transformation programmes on a vast scale, all within the financial year and yet they haven’t got the wit to prepare for Brexit within a two-year timescale? Nonsense!
We now find ourselves delaying our manifest Brexit opportunities while paying the equivalent of our Second World War debt for the privilege of leaving a club that has openly stated that we must be made to be clearly worse off out.
To add insult to injury we still have no clear picture as to where we are heading – it remains a secret to confound our enemies. Or more likely a secret so that those in charge can define success post hoc, that is “success” whatever the outcome.
We are where we are. The Government could still get a grip on the negotiations and the direction of travel. What is certain however is that the only transition we really need now is a transition of the will.
A transition to a government which faces down the enemies within, gets off its knees and stands up for Britain.
March 29th, 2018: Express