By David Chalmers
It is now over 12 weeks since the UK officially left the European Union and Boris Johnson has until 30 June to ask for the transition period we are now in to be extended by one or two years, otherwise we shall be crashing out with No Deal on 31 December.
It has long been argued that one year would not be long enough to negotiate a comprehensive deal governing the UK’s future relationship with the EU, and indeed at the hustings during the December 2019 General Election when questioned by me, Geoffrey Cox – the then Attorney General – admitted as much.
With the Covid-19 crisis having essentially put an end to talks between the UK and the EU with both sides distracted by their efforts to prevent a total melt down of society and the economy – there is just no capacity or willingness to sort out a deal at this moment.
An extension of the transition period would seem to be the only sensible course, but in the fight to stop Brexit over the past four years I have learnt to understand what motivates many of those who brought it about, and I fear that they will now use the impact of Covid- 19 to hide the true impact of Brexit.
Boris Johnson and his hardline Brexiters never really had any intention of negotiating a Deal with the EU, it was always their preference to have a complete break, which would allow them to reshape the economy in their interests and ultimately to secure their own power. The British constitution sadly offers us very little protection, as we experienced late last year, and the intention of the Government is to remove even the ability of the Supreme Court to hold them to account.
In practical terms leaving the transition period with the EU without a Deal will allow a trade agreement to be negotiated with the USA, in which our farming industry is going to be the main trade off. This will lead to the import of cheaper food and the lowering of standards , but also the end of British family farms as we know them today, which is going to have a huge impact on our rural communities in Devon.
Businesses are pleading with the Government not to compound the economic hit from the virus with the pain of a hard Brexit, but all Tory MPs were selected to stand in the recent General Election on the basis that they signed a pledge to support a No Deal Brexit over any delay. Any Conservatives who dared to oppose this position were culled from the Party – hence why we now have the C team in supposed charge of the country during this crisis.
In recent days there has been growing criticism of the Government’s handling of the Coronavirus and it’s lack of preparedness compared to many other countries and calls for a public enquiry. We have the right to ask and to have answers to our questions Why the UK was slow into lock down? Why the UK has been slow on testing? And Why the UK has been slow on providing protective equipment?
Up to 2016 the UK was regarded alongside Germany, as one of countries most well prepared to deal with a pandemic . We have dropped the ball over the past 4 years. Any guesses why? Since the EU Referendum Conservative Governments under Theresa May and Boris Johnson have been so fixated on Brexit that all other elements of governmental work have fallen to the way side
Apparently the Civil Service Task Force preparing us for a pandemic was disbanded and its team shifted to work on preparing for a No Deal Brexit.
We have been told that this would all be a price worth paying to achieve the Utopia of life outside the European Union.
The past few weeks have exposed the price that we have already paid and unless we can make Boris Johnson see reason within the next two months and seek an extension to the transition period that cost is only going to rise. We shall all be asking ourselves for a very long time – Was this really worth it?
David Chalmers is Chair of LDEG, Chair or FIRC EU/Brexit sub-committee and Parliamentary spokesperson for Torridge and West Devon