At last, in the next week or so, we could very well find out what Brexit looks like. L4E Chair Richard Newcombe speculates on what might be in the oven.
After four years of the Leave campaign being unable to define what Brexit would deliver and never being able to separate fantasy promises from reality, we might find out what shape our separation from the European Union (EU) takes.
Although much detail will require further clarification and agreement, we can put aside most of the speculation and shall have a good idea of exactly how much we have lost by leaving the EU.
Thanks to the pandemic, the British economy is experiencing its steepest economic contraction in our history. To add to this damage, a self-inflicted additional economic shock and political and security isolation now looks like the height of stupidity.
So how should we react to any agreements with the EU? Will they be a fait accompli? Will the public just accept these new arrangements for decades? Will trade bodies - such as those in manufacturing, hospitality, finance and banking - remain relatively quiet, at least in public? Or will they, like farmers, mount substantive national campaigns to protect their interests?
How will political parties respond? Labour has dropped its opposition to Brexit and has instead pressed for the conclusion of a deal with the EU, and focused instead on the government’s efforts to combat the pandemic, supporting it, albeit with strong criticism. The Lib Dems have kept a long-term commitment to rejoining the EU, but are also focusing their energies on the best way to manage the pandemic. We can nevertheless expect both parties to be highly critical of whatever the outcome is of the negotiations.
It can be expected that any deal further undermines the unity of the United Kingdom. How exactly will devolved jurisdictions respond to the deal and the parts which may cause particular hardship and uncertainty to citizens?
The losses from any deal with the EU will not be compensated by gains in any trade deals concluded with other countries around the world. It will, in any case, take years for many such deals to be completed.
Unfortunately, the Government has set up bodies that will advise on implications of trade deals which could prove ineffective. For example, the Trade and Agricultural Commission (TAC) will advise on trade implications on agriculture, but the membership at the moment is producer-orientated. If reports from the TAC on any proposed trade agreement are to be put to Parliament and have any impact, environmental and consumer groups should be included in a larger body.
The Environment Bill working its way through committee stage covers a proposed establishment of a new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), originally seen as a powerful watchdog on the enforcement of environmental commitments. However, the Government has tabled an amendment that would enable it to guide how the OEP uses its enforcement powers, thus from the start undermining its independence.
It is therefore clear that an adequate structure of review and consideration in the UK of trade agreements is not in place. As Jill Rutter of the Institute of Government argues (3 November 2020), the Government is not trusted by many MP’s, devolved administrations and interest groups. “It is a government that makes promises of independence, transparency and parliamentary involvement – but then baulks at putting these promises into practice....
“That is why trench warfare over the details of post-Brexit governance has broken out. The result will be a messy patchwork of powers and responsibilities, missing the opportunity to put a clear and convincing regime in place’.
This situation is unsatisfactory
We in the European Movement need to be as vocal as possible when trade deals weaken environmental, food and health standards, as well as threaten our economy.
Our strength is that we are a cross party organisation, whereas criticisms from political parties will be challenged as being partisan. A politically neutral group, the European Movement has greater strength and integrity in standing up for the national interest.
Chair of London4Europe
London4Europe blogs are edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.