AS I SEE IT: TERRY MURDEN
It was never meant to be like this. A year ago Boris Johnson was celebrating a landslide victory in the general election, a thumping majority giving him the authority to get Brexit done. We all know what happened next.
A year of ‘transition’ during which the UK was supposed to negotiate its divorce from the EU has been reduced to days, soon to be hours, before a deal can be done.
Who’s to blame? The opprobrium that makes up most of the content on Twitter is especially venomous towards the Prime Minister, yet it takes two to tango. No deal for the UK, also means No Deal for the EU. Both sides have promised “final” deadlines… then extended the talks.
Nicola Sturgeon is calling for an extension of the transition period beyond 31 December, given the need to focus on the mutant Covid variant which has forced EU countries to close their borders to the UK. That’s not the solution. We need a decision now. This has gone on for long enough.
We keep hearing that there are a handful of sticking points in the talks: fishing rights, competition rules and the “level playing field” that would prevent the UK ‘undercutting’ the EU.
There are genuine concerns on the British side about a fishing regime in which 60% of the haul from British waters accrues to foreign boats.
However, there has to be another way of dealing with this. Fishing accounts for just 0.1% of the British economy and employs about 24,000 people. How can it be allowed to determine whether or not we get a deal affecting more than 450 million across the UK and EU and the future of every trade from banking to baking?
If these three issues are the “sticking points” it suggests the other issues are ready to be signed off.
So why not take fishing and competition matters out of the talks, set up a separate negotiating team to resolve these issues, and let a deal be done that will at least allow new regulations on the rest of the economy to be put in place?
The Brexit impasse is now wrapped up in the worsening Covid crisis. At least there is a vaccine that will mitigate the effects of the latter. The Brexit talks remain no nearer a solution.
There was always a suspicion that the EU would push the talks to the eleventh hour. It has never been in the bloc’s interest to allow the divorce to go through without making it difficult. A smooth exit would risk other nations and regions demanding withdrawal.
That said, the UK government and the Brexiteers may have to yield more ground, or at least tell us what No Deal means for those who need to start trading on new terms from 1 January.
Time is now short, not only for parliamentarians on both sides to scrutinise and vote on a deal, but for companies who are being told to ‘be prepared’ but are asking ‘be prepared for what?’