Beware a transition period in which we remain a quasi-member state of the EU

Beware a transition period in which we remain a quasi-member state of the EU

In the endless debate about Brexit, and its media categorisation as ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ or ‘clean’ – as if it were some great boiled egg or a bit of cheese and not the enactment of an overwhelming public vote – it’s really quite hard to have a calm discussion on the facts. Ask a question, no matter how reasoned, and an outpouring of virulent opinion and accusation quickly flies in from all directions.

Of course, the process of departure was always going to be difficult. We wouldn’t be leaving the European Union if it had a track record of making life easy for anyone outside of the French farming industry. It is a shame that all debate falls into the trap of dividing everyone into ‘Brexiteers’ and ‘Remoaners’. Regardless of which way people voted, the result was clear and that makes the purpose of Brexit very simple.

Still, it’s not just the Government carrying out a pledge to act as the result of the referendum dictated, or even carrying out the will of Parliament in its near unanimous vote to support the process. Beyond questions of parliamentary sovereignty, the rule of democracy and our nation’s long term economic future, leaving means, well, leaving.

Yet here we are. It took eight months for the Government to invoke Article 50 following the referendum, at last firing the gun to begin withdrawal negotiations. Now a further two years for a ‘transition period’ have been put on the table, taking us up to nearly five years for Brexit to actually happen. No wonder a degree of frustration is growing. It is obvious that we need to adjust to being outside the EU and the EU needs to be weaned off our substantial financial contribution.

It is worth remembering that we have a balance of payments deficit with the EU – so they will certainly wish to continue trading with us. There is a clear concern that we have offered a two-year transition and there appears to be a deafening silence in return. The case can be made that the public offer of such a period is an olive branch, with a payout there to sweeten the deal and ensure a good trade negotiation can be opened; but there needs to be a lot more clarity on what such an arrangement actually means.

It is simply not acceptable to abide by all the trappings of EU membership and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, pumping in our hard-earned cash without a seat at the table for two whole years, and even worse to contemplate that we could remain bound from signing trade agreements with other nations in the interim. Such an arrangement would be political and economic suicide. As a clear red line we need to able to negotiate, and sign, trade agreements from April 2019 when we cease to be a member of the EU.

The transition deal may turn out to be academic given that Paris and Berlin appear to have rejected the offer anyway. The question has to be asked: does the EU actually want an agreement? If the answer is no, the Government is going to have to accept that the EU has no interest in making agreements of any kind. The pyramid scheme can only work if those at the bottom cannot contemplate leaving, and a hefty ‘divorce bill’ of ever increasing amounts as a punishment is therefore of more interest politically than getting to work forging a reasonable arrangement to maintain trade links. The post-1992 EU is a political project first and foremost – and it’s acting like it.

It is an obvious requirement that that the Government prepare for the new opportunities of trading agreements outside the EU and we must not be held back by those who wish to penalise the UK for having the temerity of leaving this expensive political club. The British people have instructed the Government to act on their behalf to remove us from a union of nations that has never been united on anything. If there is to be a transitional period, it cannot be as a quasi-member state. More importantly, if a deal is not going to be reached, as all signs suggest, it is the duty of the Government to prepare for that scenario now.