Boris Johnson won an election landslide with the slogan “get Brexit done” and key milestones have been reached with Parliament pushing through a deal after three and a half years of paralysis with barely a whimper.
The EU Bill has, in the PM’s words, seen Britain “crossing the finishing line.” We’ve even got a commemorative 50p piece made up of base metal melted down last year when Boris’s “dead-in-a-ditch” deadline came and went.
Now No 10 can get down to the business of governing Britain, rebuilding the North of England and cosying up to Donald Trump.
Well, yes and no. We face, at the very least, another 11 months of negotiating post-Brexit trade deals, regulations and laws. Boris claimed that the UK could now “move forwards as one” and put “years of rancour and division behind it”. Fat chance of that.
The European Parliament’s ratification of the deal was only rubber-stamped after Boris essentially agreed the formula which Theresa May signed up to two years ago and which Boris, in different votes, both supported and opposed.
As that arrangement ends, the two sides hope to have completed negotiations on their future economic and security partnership, at the heart of which the government believes will be an ambitious free trade deal. Again, fat chance.
The Political Declaration was a 26-page sketch of the future relationship agreed alongside the 600-page Withdrawal Agreement, which settled the terms of the UK’s departure. The EU takes the document as gospel and its officials are alert for signs that the UK might be softening on commitments previously made, in part because of No 10’s relationship with the Trump White House.
The centrepiece of the new EU-UK relationship is the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), but the transatlantic partnership means that Boris “can live with” some friction in its trade with the EU. That’s news to Brussels.
The EU intends that the level playing field will cover taxation, labour relations and environmental policies, and state support for struggling companies, and wants the UK to stay in lock-step with European policies on the environment and state aid as they develop. That’s news to No 10.
At the same time, the EU will develop its own tools to retaliate quickly if the UK did something deemed unacceptable. This is at the heart of upcoming negotiations and the flashpoint will be over what access the EU will get to UK waters to catch fish and what access British trawlermen will get to the EU market to sell it. m/f
The detailed discussions on all of the above is yet to come, and Boris certainly hopes that it will prove so dull it will slip down the media’s political agenda. Once again, fat chance. More stalemates in Brussels will be tomorrow’s big news stories.
Irish premier Leo Varadkar provided a taste of things to come when he said that the EU will have the upper hand in the upcoming trade talks with the UK and warned against any UK attempt to get a “piecemeal” deal with the EU. “When I hear people talk about piecemeal, it sounds a bit like cake and eat,” he said. “That isn’t something that will fly in Europe.”
Meanwhile, Boris’s claim that his deal will heal divisions across Britain looks decidedly shaky. Recent data suggests that one in five Leave voters and one in three Remain voters would not welcome a member of the other camp marrying into their family. Such blinkered bigotry coming from both sides suggests that Brexit wounds will take a generation or two to heal.