The manufacturing regions of the north of England are particularly vulnerable to the economic effects of the COVID19 lockdown, with thousands of jobs at stake. These very same regions would also suffer the most in the event of failure by the Westminster government to secure a post Brexit deal with the EU before the end of the year. Two simultaneous economic whammies are the last things they need.
Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, approved by Parliament and the EU in January, was a ‘blindfold Brexit’: leaving without detailing what would replace the myriad arrangements, laws and programmes to which we were hitherto a part. Sorting all that out was left for a post-Brexit transition period that ends in December.
Particularly important is to maintain our rights of access to the EU market, for our exporters and our supply chains alike. The transition period was to give us time to negotiate new arrangements to replace those we had as a member of the EU. The agreement also said we could extend this deadline for another year, or even two, if needed to secure a deal and secure a smooth transition that do not disrupt our economy.
But astonishingly, Johnson has announced that despite the delays caused by COVID-19, he will refuse to extend the transition period beyond the earliest December deadline, whatever the consequences. He claims a good deal can be reached without any problem by October.
But look at Johnson’s track record on meeting deadlines! Take his recent COVID promises: adequate supplies of PPE; the testing target; the school reopening timeline; the schedule for a workable track-trace App. These were all missed. Yet, now he expects us to believe that he can deliver a post-Brexit deal with the EU in time, and does not even need to take the precaution of having a later deadline!
There are growing concerns in agriculture, manufacturing, retail, transport, higher education, the creative sector, and others about the potentially devastating consequences for their sector, coming on top of the Coronavirus recession. They, and also the Welsh & Scottish governments, trade unions, opposition parties and even former Conservative ministers have called for an extension, to have more time to get a good deal. This is not a Leave vs Remain debate. We’ve left, so it’s about securing the best deal possible. Yet Johnson ignores all these pleas.
Many are beginning to suspect that Johnson is acting in bad faith, tearing up the Political Declaration (the agreement on future relations with the EU) that he signed to get his Brexit deal through, and that he is actually aiming for no-deal, so that Britain pivots away from European standards and towards a US style deregulation. The right wing of the Conservative party, now in the ascendency, thinks that any deal will keep Britain aligned with the EU’s high standards of workplace rights, consumer protection laws, food safety regulations and environmental targets. The very reason that the right wing Conservatives wanted Brexit was to get rid of all this. They want a deregulated, corporate free-for-all economy without their profits being eroded by social and environmental responsibilities. They also want Britain to align economically and strategically with Trump’s USA, rather than with our European neighbours.
The one thing that previously held them back was the fear that they would be blamed for the economic fallout of a disorderly no-deal Brexit. Now, they reckon that their big chance to get away with it is by hiding the costs – the job losses and the fall in living standards – among the effects of the coronavirus lockdown. We must not let them get away with that.