True to its word, the government had not asked for an extension to the transition period; it kept it faith with the electorate. The deadline for making a request for an extension had passed. The debate now shift to the sort of relationship we should have with the EU.
So far the EU has refused to countenance a trade deal with the UK along the same lines as other trade deals it had negotiated on the spurious grounds of the proximity of the UK to the EU. There are calls for a ‘close relationship’ with the EU, for regulatory alignment with single market regulations, for a so called ‘level playing field’ and to compromise on our fishing right in return for a trade deal.
Many cite the Covid crisis as an excuse. Far from the coronavirus being a reason for such a relationship, it provides a compelling reason to detach ourselves from the EU completely. The last thing we need as we move out of the lockdown and begin to repair the damage the virus has caused is any constraints on our ability to manage the economy and regenerate industry. As for the notion of a need for ‘level playing field’, it has a whiff of fair play but any such a notion quickly disappears once it is realised that the said ‘playing field’ belongs to the EU with EU’s own rules and regulations. It is like asking a football club to play all their matches away, never at home. Not only would the players forego home advantage, the club’s grounds will be left untended and in time become surplus to requirements.
People voted for Brexit to take back control of such things as the movement of capital in and out of the country, immigration and trade, state aid to industry and government procurement rules, VAT, public ownership of private enterprises and the jurisdiction over our fishing waters as well as ending the supremacy of EU’s Court of Justice over our own courts, all of which are essential tools specially in a crisis situation.
The government has one and only one mandate from the electorate: Get Brexit Done; it was the Tories’ only slogan in the 2019 general election. Boris Johnson assured the electorate that, unlike Labour which went for a second EU referendum, he had an ‘oven ready’ plan for exiting the EU: end UK’s membership of the EU on Jan 31, and, after a short transition period during which time the UK remains in the single market, we leave the EU on December 31. This is why people gave Johnson his majority. Had they voted Labour, we would have been in the middle of a divisive second referendum campaign.
The damage done to the economy by the lockdown is such that it will need extensive use of fiscal and economic levers to repair and re-build the economy. The output of some fundamental sectors of the economy such as manufacture suffered hugely. Engine production declined by a whopping 99.5%. A large chunk of the nation’s wealth has not been realised. The furlough scheme does nothing to mitigate that destruction; it merely retains workers who would otherwise be on the dole in the hope that they would be usefully employed once the lockdown is eased and the sooner it ends the better.
The government takeover of the running of economy including the most basic task of paying the wages of millions of workers, and turning the banks into its agents to deliver state-guaranteed funds for businesses provide a great foundation for shaping the future. The TUC is asking for ‘national council for recovery’ and the manufacturing trade union, Unite is calling for ‘rebuild back better’. Boris Johnson echoes these calls with ‘We will not just bounce back, we will bounce forward’.
There is a common purpose driven by an overwhelming desire by the British people to re-structure and re-build the country, its economic and industrial base and social infrastructure, something that has not been seen since the end of the Second World War.
The precise path the country will take as we come out of lockdown cannot be prescribed in advance but it will be our own unique path that meets the specific needs of the country. There will be turns and twists along the way, but they will be our turns and our twists, not those imposed on us by the EU, a body to which we no longer belong.
It was Picasso who observed, “You start a painting and it becomes something altogether different. It’s strange how little the artist’s will matters”. So it is with the present collective effort to combat a new and deadly virus, it may well transform into something altogether different. Such a transformation can only take place with full and unhindered national independence.
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