I have resisted the temptation to return to the subject of BREXIT in this column for quite a few weeks. It has taken some degree of will power. I receive a large number of emails about it daily. Some constituents have taken to emailing several times a day with their reaction to every twist in the latest news bulletins. I hope they are not too dissatisfied with a simple “thanks, your views are noted” because there is just not enough time in the day to provide a running commentary on the latest news.
As I write, the latest thing to generate email outrage, was the PM’s suggestion on Wednesday that we might remain in a transition phase for a further year in order to enable the enduring trade deal with the EU to be fully negotiated and implemented, and to give more time for to the Northern Ireland border problem to be resolved.
Many people believe that time is of the essence: Another year means another year of fully paying our dues; It will take us into the next EU budget period where we will have no input to the budget setting process, nor enjoy our existing rebate, so the price of that year will be correspondingly much higher.
By the time that that additional year is over it will be over 5 years since the referendum, and three years living under rules that we have given up our power to influence.
Having waited 43 years to leave the EU already, adding one more to the two already suggested in the proposed transition agreement, is not the deal-breaker for me personally.
What is my deal-breaker, is signing up even to just the two year transition, when our exit from it relies on a solution –acceptable to the EU- of the Northern Ireland border
Signing-up to such an agreement is a recipe for a permanent state of limbo, a vassal to the EU: making the payments, but without influence.
The only solution to the Northern Ireland border is available now, and the EU has rejected it. There is no new different solution that will suddenly emerge in the next three years. Especially so, because now is the time when our negotiating leverage is at its strongest: we haven’t given them the money. Once the transition agreement is signed and ratified however, the £39 billion will be committed and they will have us where they want us, they will be under no pressure whatsoever to agree to end the transition.
Unless the EU negotiation position changes dramatically and soon, I believe that the only sensible way to proceed is to announce that we will leave on 29th March on World Trade Organisation rules, and seek a number of minor technical agreements to ease that process, recognising that both UK and EU are bound by the provisions of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement.
As for to-day’s rally for a second referendum, all I can say is that I haven’t heard a single argument in the last 2 years that wasn’t thoroughly debated before the 2016 referendum.
There was only one thing that both sides agreed on, namely that the voting in that referendum was vital because it would settle the question for a generation. Accordingly, it’s settled.