I was on BBC TV’s Politics Live, where a series of politicians from all three main parties said a series of extremely silly and unbelievable things. They were grilled by presenter Jo Coburn, assisted by myself, Matthew D’Ancona and Miatta Fahnbulleh. You can watch the show here, if you can access BBC iPlayer.
The Tory on the show, Paymaster-General Oliver Dowden, tried to insist that, assuming Boris Johnson would gain a workable majority in next week’s general election, the Conservatives would finally end Britain’s Brexit nightmare by bringing the UK out of the EU on January 31.
Faced with general incredulity, on the grounds that once the UK departs it will be locked into difficult trade talks with the EU which will mean the Brexit nightmare will indeed continue, Dowden kept repeating like a stuck record that the Tories were the only party who would deliver Brexit on January 31 when Brexit Would Be Done. And he insisted, as has Boris, that by the end of 2020 the UK would have concluded the trade talks with the EU, at which point Brexit would be Even More Done.
This is absurd. There’s no way a trade deal of this complexity could be completed by the end of next year, during which “transition period” the UK will be in a desperately weak position by being outside the EU but still bound by all its laws and regulations and at the mercy of whatever the EU chooses to throw at it. Moreover, this nightmarish “transition period” can be extended for a further two years – and the request for that to happen has to be made by July 1.
So as I said to him, by the end of 2020 one of three things has to happen. Either the transition period is extended; or the UK abandons the trade deal altogether and opts for striking out instead under WTO rules; or, if BoJo insists on sticking to the 2020 deadline and insists there can be no “no-deal” exit under WTO rules, then he will have to accept whatever rotten conditions the EU is demanding.
And as Pieter Cleppe argues in the Telegraph, the EU is already sharpening its knives:
“Their first demand will be that Boris Johnson breaks his promise not to extend the eleven months transition period if he wants a proper trade deal. As one EU diplomat put it, ‘the choice is either no deal Brexit 2.0 or to extend the transition period.’ Another senior EU diplomat added that ‘not in my wildest dreams would I imagine’ the possibility of the EU agreeing a zero-tariff, zero-quota deal by 2020, which would permit divergence from EU rules on workers’ rights and environmental protections.
“A second EU demand is that the UK agrees to grant the EU access to British fishing waters before the end of June, and it sees this as a pre-condition for any trade deal. An EU diplomat adds that the fisheries issue, where the UK is seen by many to have a strong negotiation position, ‘needs to be resolved by June, so in four months.’ According to the withdrawal agreement, the decision on whether or not to extend the transition is also due by then.
“Thirdly, the EU will demand so-called level playing field commitments to guarantee that the UK will not undercut European social, tax and environmental standards to gain competitive advantage after Brexit. If not, the UK should expect a response in kind; Barnier has warned that ‘access to our markets will be proportional to the commitments taken to the common rules’. He even redefined a refusal to copy the EU’s failing model of excessive regulation when exporting to continental Europe as ‘dumping’.”
And so on.
This is the nightmare that’s about to unfold as a result of the deal Boris Johnson has done. Which is why it’s only by leaving with no deal that the UK will have the upper hand – the elementary lesson that Theresa May never understood either.
Which is what the Brexit party alone has been telling us. The Brexit party, however, appears to be disintegrating by the day.
But eventually – if he actually wins this election with a workable majority – the unstoppable force of Boris Johnson will be unable to avoid colliding with the immovable object of the EU. And then we’ll finally see just what BoJo is made of.