And we’re back! The champagne corks have popped, it’s 2020, and – as if everyone’s livers have not yet suffered enough – Brexit is happening at the end of the month.
What a difference a few weeks make. Just before Christmas we saw Boris Johnson’s first round of Brexit legislation sailing through Parliament on the back of the thumping new Tory majority. The days of nail-biting parliamentary arithmetic are well and truly over.
The first piece of good news is that the new legislation has enshrined in law an end to the transition period no later than December 2020. This was a clear sign that the government means business and will not be pivoting towards a softer Brexit, as some commentators had proposed. The December 2020 deadline is tight for any substantial renegotiation but offers ample time if the government limits its ambitions to signing an off-the-shelf Free Trade Agreement. This is what the government should now be working on. As argued on the BfB website over Christmas, an off-the-shelf deal has the potential to benefit the consumer, manufacturing, and the UK as a whole.
The Irish EU trade commissioner, Phil Hogan, has said that one year is too short for a deal and that Boris Johnson will ask for an extension. This is normal EU bullying and bluster, but he must know that deadlines are essential to focus minds. More generally, the tone from Brussels since Boris’s stunning victory has been much more measured and moderate. It looks like the Commission has finally accepted that the UK is leaving and late in the day feels a degree of remorse.
Meanwhile, the inquest into Labour’s crushing defeat continues. A recent poll concludes that Keir Starmer is the current frontrunner amongst the leadership hopefuls – a strange vote of confidence in the architect of the party’s disastrous second referendum policy. Though Starmer is yet to fully set out his stall, this does not bode well for the party’s efforts to reconnect with its Northern heartlands. There is no electoral future in becoming the party of rejoin.
Indeed, as historian Ashley Walsh argues for BfB, Labour has only previously avoided sharing in the decline of centre Left parties across Europe because of its longstanding refusal to put all its eggs in the EU’s basket. As the EU’s treatment of Greece and high youth unemployment figures across the continent show, the EU has only ever been a fair-weather friend of the labour movement. Our democracy works best when the government is held to account by a credible opposition. For the sake of peace, reconciliation and fully functioning scrutiny, it is time for Labour Remainers to do what they should have done in 2016: accept defeat and allow their party to move on.
BfB co-editor Robert Tombs has commented on the Labour party’s electoral conundrum in a New York Times article:
“It’s the detachment of the Labour Party from great swaths of the country, which they seem not to sympathize with,” said Robert Tombs, a historian at the University of Cambridge. “That leaves the party in a pretty dire position in the long term, unless it can miraculously reinvent itself.”
Robert’s work on Brexit has also been mentioned by the Washington Examiner. His book, The English and their History, was chosen by the Examiner’s editors as one of their ‘books of the decade’:
“Tombs is one of the most intelligent and most persuasive commentators on Brexit, puncturing absurdities in its opponents’ scaremongering. And he does so as someone who has spent his adult life in admiring engagement with continental Europe.”
On the website this week
Dr Ashley Walsh, Lecturer in Early Modern History at Cardiff University and a former Labour councilor, explains that there are two reasons why Labour – unlike its European sister parties – isn’t quite on life support: first-past-the-post and its refusal to engage fully in European economic integration. As Labour regroups after its General Election defeat, the party needs to renew its commitment to both causes.
“To dream of becoming a continental-style social democratic party under proportional representation is unwittingly to wish the death of the Labour Party. It’s time to wake up and catch up with history.”
An Off the Shelf Free Trade Agreement, by David Collins
Now that the transition will end in December 2020, the UK should aim for an off the shelf trade deal with the EU which is good for the consumer, for manufacturing, and good for the UK. Here, the international economic lawyer, David Collins, explains why. This blog is published by kind permission of Politeia.
“A pared down FTA by December 2020 is a first stage. It does not indicate that trade in services between the UK and the EU cannot be further liberalized over time.”
An EU/UK FTA Can Be Done in 2020, by Robert Lee
Now that Brexit “will get done”, focus switches to the EU/UK FTA negotiations. Can a trade deal be done by end 2020? Some Brexit opponents say it will take much longer, and the EU would prefer an extension. However, as Economist Robert Lee argues, a deal is not only possible but very likely. The UK is now in a strong bargaining position, with a majority government prioritising the potential regulatory freedoms of Brexit. The EU needs to protect its huge trade surplus as the UK conducts parallel trade negotiations with non-EU countries. The parties start talks with full regulatory alignment and zero tariffs. The Political Declaration allows for the relatively limited goal of a Canada style FTA. This is eminently achievable.
“If the political will is there the relatively short time available is not a limiting factor.”
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How you can help
We urge our supporters to ‘take back control’ in our present confusion. There are thousands of you. Our MPs listen to their constituents. Sign up to the Brexit Pledge here. Write to your MPs. Perhaps send them copies of some of our articles (or links to them), especially when they are relevant to your local conditions – for example, in rural areas, on the threat to British agriculture. Better still, make an appointment to see them at their next surgery: they will take notice when people are lining up at their doors. Make you views known where MPs might be wavering, or where they are working to sabotage Brexit, especially in Leave-voting and marginal constituencies, which Richard Johnson listed in his recent article.
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An Oxbridge PhD Student
Dr Graham Gudgin
Economist, Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School University of Cambridge
Professor Robert Tombs
Emeritus Professor of French History, University of Cambridge