BREXIT Watch now is extension watch. The virus crisis gripping Europe is also splitting the EU as Italy furiously rejects German insistence that massive financial help must be linked to the same sort of disciplinary measures that were applied to Greece. So bad is the North-South EU split that it is posing a threat to its very continuance. And so a desperate EU is doubling down on its demand that the Brexit date of 31 December be extended, for years, so that Covid-19 can be dealt with before Brexit arrangements are fixed. The UK needs to ask for an extension, the German MEP David McAllister insists: ‘The ball is now clearly in the British court.’
The chorus from the EU for yet another long Theresa May type of delay and extension is now deafening, and Whitehall is quietly still aiding and abetting this with the CBI. Boris Johnson, however, says he is standing his ground.
The Freight Transport Association (FTA) became the first major trade body publicly to call for an extension to the stalled talks, warning that keeping the negotiations hanging over the industry was putting ‘huge and unnecessary pressures’ on the logistics business. The industry needs to end the uncertainty hanging over it. But uncertainty is fed by the May delay inside the prison of the WA. To act now, with a recession already happening, minimises any disruptive impact of Brexit itself, which will be chickenfeed in contrast to the Covid-19 chaos.
If extension is the answer to a swift clarification of a messy situation, why should the UK have to request it rather than the EU which wants it so desperately? The EU needs formally to make this request, and face the fact that this presumably obviates further huge UK payments to the EU. The EU-UK relationship needs to escape from the permanent subservience model Sir Huawei always accepts. In a nutshell, the UK needs to show some steel and make clear who holds the cards.
However a far more logical move for the UK would be to announce an off-the-shelf model for trade relations of a bare bones kind, needing no sophisticated talks at all, as set out in this excellent article by Harry Western in Briefings for Britain. The concerns of the FTA would have been met already by the preparations for the October 31 departure date last year, when the hauliers for weeks had been doing their homework on trucking in and out of the EU under WTO rules. All that work exists. If the EU doesn’t like it, it doesn’t really matter as their ‘deal’ proposals are really very bad indeed and amount to political control over the UK in many unacceptable aspects.
Now is the time actively to get ready to quit, to legislate for our fisheries and finance, as Harry Western explained. It is clear that Barnier, with his growing list of impossible conditions and demands, has no intention of getting a fair deal done, he has no incentive to get one done – although coronavirus does alter that and should give him an incentive, if the UK presses the knife to his throat despite Whitehall’s reluctance to do so. The growing demand for an extension is quite simply more Remainer fight-back, this time under virus cover.
And of course the liabilities that will place on the UK to help the desperate eurozone are a real threat if we don’t exit very soon.
Our terms should be clear:
We say yes to free trade in goods and financial services.
Fish not on the table, but licensing will allow French fishing under UK regulation (EU regulation destroyed the stock).
And now or we walk, use free ports and set UK trade free.
Aggression and bad faith is the stamp of the EU strategy in these non-talks. This is not the time to get touchy-feely. Only when we actually leave will the EU start to talk sensibly.
The EU are in a desperate state and utterly divided. We should strike a deal now, on our terms, while we have the upper hand; we should treat the EU as aggressively as they are treating us.
The alternative of another extension would be for years and lead only to a possible Brino. When the EU gets back together with its remorseless passive aggression of demands and conditions for political control, the UK stands little chance of a Brexit, let alone a fair deal. If you remain unconvinced, ask the Greeks who are still paying billions to their masters for an illegally bad ‘deal’.
If we ‘request’ an extension, at more annual oceans of cost, the Remainer next step is to say, ‘Well, Prime Minister, we have just recovered from the coronavirus damage, we cannot possibly now start further disruption, can we?’ ‘No, Sir Huawei, we can’t.’ It’s a Brino then.