They’ve finally got it. In an address on Monday, European Union President Ursula Von Der Leyen finally seemed to accept that the Brexit transition period would be ending on 31st December.
This moment has been a long time coming. Encouraged by shameless Remain politicians and campaigners – who, in some cases, even went as far as trying to manipulate COVID-19 to their cause – the EU had still been hoping that the United Kingdom may apply for a transition extension. Happily, the UK government stood firm. At last, it seems, the penny has dropped.
Giving way would be a betrayal of the Conservatives’ manifesto promises and incompatible with the UK’s restituted status as a sovereign country.
Both sides can now devote all their attention to finalising a trade deal. Whilst some federalist obsessives are still fixated on somehow “punishing” Britain, the reality of the bloc’s increasingly precarious position is bringing its more sensible figures back to the table. Certainly, in London, the British government has been quite clear on how far it is prepared to go. As Michael Gove underlined in the Commons yesterday, the UK will not accept: any role for the European Court of Justice; any restrictions on our legislative and economic freedoms; or the status quo on their access to British fishing waters. These are essential red lines. Giving way would be a betrayal of the Conservatives’ manifesto promises and incompatible with the UK’s restituted status as a sovereign country.
The truth is, any kind of transition extension was never going to solve the problems of the negotiation, merely delay them. It would also create further confusion for business. And there are the cold, hard, cash advantages of getting this process over with: firmly outside the bloc, we will no longer have to pay towards it. Indeed, COVID-19 has increased the attractiveness of completing this process without any formal deal at all. As the EU struggles to construct any kind of coherent response, we can get on with the important wealth-creating work of lowering taxes, cutting red tape and shrinking the state. Whilst the EU talks to itself, we can talk to the world. A ‘WTO Deal’ should bring us no fear.
It didn’t have to be like this. The EU could have realised the writing was on the wall in 2016, and stopped trying to obstruct and delay the inevitable. It could have stuck to its promise, of a Canada Plus deal – the original plan, the best plan, and, happily it seems, the plan again. But a European Union that was reasonable would not be the European Union. Refusing to get sucked into Brussels’ games has been essential. A ticking clock benefits the UK far more than it benefits the EU, as does the threat of no formalised trading arrangement. The EU – lumbering, sclerotic, and increasingly fractured – cannot possibly outcompete us. It’s the equivalent of Monsieur Barnier proffering a grenade, and trying to frighten us by threatening to swallow it.
“They’re a weak lot, some of them in Europe, you know,” said the Brave and Noble Baroness Thatcher, Gawd bless ‘er. “Weak, feeble.” All they were ever going to respond to is a taste of the metaphorical cold steel. Of course, the posturing will continue. “No, no, no” will beget “Non, non, non” and, indeed, “Nein, nein, nein”. We must stand firm. Our trump card is that we can simply walk away. Meanwhile, Brussels’ house of cards is close to collapse.
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