Brexit is over. It has all been sorted out. It is ‘a historical event’ that ‘took place on January 31, 2020’.
So declares a leaked, confidential Brexit ‘lexicon’ approved by No.10 and issued to ministers to make sure they are all singing off the same hymn sheet. If only it were true! But, alas, it is a complete fiction.
In the first place, although technically we did leave the EU seven and a half months ago, we are to all intents and purposes still part of the bloc, paying billions into its budget and obeying its rules.
It turns out that the ‘oven ready deal’ of which Boris Johnson endlessly boasted during last December’s election campaign hasn’t even been placed on the baking tray. Boris Johnson is pictured above in an election rally last year
More importantly, we are still wrangling with Brussels about the nature of our future relationship after we finally do depart. Will we end up with a free trade agreement? Or will it be No Deal, as seems increasingly likely after last week’s eruptions?
Note that ‘No Deal’ is outlawed by the leaked lexicon, and ministers have previously been told to avoid the term. The official way of describing No Deal is an ‘Australian-type agreement’ – which actually is no agreement at all.
If only the Government could bring itself to be honest. According to a government dossier leaked to the Sun on Sunday three weeks ago which didn’t attract the notice it should have, the lack of a deal could cause chaos in the short term.
The dossier suggested that the double impact of a revival of the virus and a failure to get a free trade agreement with the EU could lead to public disorder, shortages and price increases.
An already weakened economy would tank. Troops might have to be put on the streets to deal with civil unrest.
France would impose ‘mandatory controls on UK goods from day one’ – ie January 1, 2021 – and between 40 and 70 per cent of hauliers travelling across the Channel are said to be unprepared. The flow of goods between Dover and Calais could decline by 45 per cent for three months. Pretty scary stuff.
Yesterday the EU’s intransigent chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, above, and his British opposite number, David Frost, engaged in an unedifying squabble on Twitter which only served to show how far apart the two sides now are
The truth is that at the eleventh hour almost everything is undecided. It turns out that the ‘oven ready deal’ of which Boris Johnson endlessly boasted during last December’s election campaign hasn’t even been placed on the baking tray.
And yet we are offered the fantastical assertion that Brexit is settled, presumably because Mr Johnson wants the British people to believe that he has already honoured his election promise to ‘get Brexit done’. I’m afraid he hasn’t – at least, not yet.
Can he really think we are so stupid? Remainers and Brexiteers alike can see perfectly well that, far from resolving many differences that separate us from Brussels over issues such as fishing and state aid (another term banned in the lexicon), the Government is struggling to find a satisfactory solution.
In fact, we are further from an agreement than we were a week ago, following the Government’s announcement that it is prepared to overwrite parts of the Withdrawal Agreement signed with the EU last January – and the breezy admission of a Cabinet minister in the Commons that this would break international law.
This development has not only enraged Brussels and home-grown Remainers, as one would expect. Two in the latter category, Sir John Major and Tony Blair, penned an angry article in yesterday’s Sunday Times which many will have regarded as somewhat predictable.
More significantly, seasoned Tory Brexiteers such as ex-leader Michael Howard and former chancellor Norman Lamont have expressed their dismay at the damage to Britain’s reputation which would be caused by abrogating an international treaty.
Yesterday the EU’s intransigent chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and his British opposite number, David Frost, engaged in an unedifying squabble on Twitter which only served to show how far apart the two sides now are.
Meanwhile, although the Government’s controversial Internal Market Bill is very unlikely to be defeated tonight at second reading in the Commons, it faces huge opposition when it goes to the House of Lords. Disquiet among Tory MPs may grow.
We are at a moment of national crisis which may be far more gruelling than anything we experienced last year. Even without the disruption caused by Covid-19, the remaining uncertainties of Brexit would be bad enough. The two together are terrifying.
Maybe Brussels will continue being so unreasonable that a respectable deal with the EU isn’t possible. But if Boris Johnson is able to behave like a statesman – which implies a measure of compromise – an agreement could still be obtainable.
But please, Boris, don’t take us for fools. We can see that the Australian-style deal of which you so often talk optimistically is no agreement at all. We know very well that Brexit is not ‘a historical event’ but a continuing, and so far unresolved, problem.
Step away from your aides and advisers, Prime Minister, and in particular the destructive Dominic Cummings, and demonstrate the leadership qualities that might yet enable you to deliver a decent, honest Brexit.
Seasoned Tory Brexiteers such as ex-leader Michael Howard (above) and former chancellor Norman Lamont have expressed their dismay at the damage to Britain’s reputation which would be caused by abrogating an international treaty