The noises coming from the government are encouraging. We must under no circumstances extend the transition period with the EU.
Of course, the usual suspects are desperate to drag it out. Labour, the ‘Liberal’ ‘Democrats’, the SNP – not to mention their cheerleaders at Sky and the BBC – would do pretty much anything to see this process extended. Since the bad old days of John Bercow and the Brexit wreckers (masterminded by Dominic Grieve and a certain Sir Keir Rodney Starmer), the plan has always been to make our departure from the EU as painful and protracted as possible. Even though we have now officially left, drawing out the implementation period is still part of their strategy.
Around the world, countries are lining up to do business with a newly free Britain. Old alliances are being rekindled; new alliances forged.
It cannot be allowed. For a start, there are the political implications. As Steve Baker noted this week, every single Conservative MP in the House of Commons stood on a sacrosanct pledge not to extend our transition discussions beyond this December. Forget Cummingsgate, we have seen what happens to British politicians who do not keep their Brexit promises. Elongating this phase would not just be shooting ourselves in the foot, it would be shooting ourselves in the head, too.
Some, particularly on the Opposition benches, want to use the Coronacrisis as an excuse to delay. They should be given the short shrift they deserve. Cynical exploitation of a killer disease is a new low – though not, sadly, an unexpected one. It shows how desperate Remainers have become. I’m just waiting for Ed Davey to turn up in Parliament with one of those blue and gold berets on. And a blue and gold face mask.
The truth is, we’ve got the European Union precisely where we want them. Pressure is building across the continent for its leaders to do a deal. Monsieur Barnier can posture; Monsieur Barnier can bluster; Monsieur Barnier can wag his finger and take offence. It doesn’t change the reality, and the reality – as much as our “friends and neighbours” may pretend otherwise – is they need us more than we need them. We must brush aside their impertinence, and keep our eyes on the prize.
And what a prize awaits us, whether we reach a formal trading agreement with the EU or not. Around the world, countries are lining up to do business with a newly free Britain. Old alliances are being rekindled; new alliances forged. Rather than diminish us, our influence outside the EU has conspicuously grown. I am pleased, therefore, to see the Foreign Secretary taking such a principled approach to Hong Kong. Unlike the European Union, the United Kingdom meets its responsibilities. A change of policy on Huawei is equally welcome.
With our EU relationship finally settled, it will be time to refocus on our domestic agenda, the next essential stage of the Brexit revolution. In the wake of COVID-19, and free from the suffocating influence of Brussels, we need a new debate on taxation and regulation. A leaner, fitter UK – with the economic emphasis moved away from the state, to businesses and the individual – will be in the best possible place to thrive in the new world. As the EU stagnates under the weight of its own bureaucracy and pomposity, the UK should follow a different path, of freedom, responsibility and liberty. Upscaling the UK means downsizing the state. Let’s give everybody the opportunity to take back control.
“When buying and selling are controlled by legislation,” remarked the American satirist P J O’Rourke, “the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.” Brussels has demonstrated this. Outside the EU, we should not just be demanding a better government, a more accountable government. We should be striving for a smaller government, too.
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