It is with reluctance that the B-word must be brought to the surface once again, as this pandemic brings it back into the spotlight, compelling me to cover this area once again. In a sense, the next set of negotiations, both on trade and the future relationship, are not Brexit negotiations at all as the UK is no longer a member of the European Union; but while we are within the transition period we still have the same close trading partnership as we did when a member state.
The government, before the coronavirus outbreak, made it clear that there would be no extension to the transition period; writing that solemn promise into UK law, however the pandemic has shifted public opinion more towards supporting a transitional period extension as shown consistently by YouGov and others. This political gambit was an election pledge to keep the Brexiteer forces within the Conservative Party content that Brexit really would ‘get done’ and to ensure that Leave voters didn’t flock to the Brexit Party, causing yet another electoral upset that could derail Brexit altogether.
I must admit to believing that the government would extend the transition period but, much to my surprise, they have stuck to the date despite having the flexibility of a guaranteed full term and a solid majority. Even with the repeated pledges that coronavirus will not change the government’s position, there is still a chance they may switch course. The pandemic has sent an economic shock, paralysing the world, and so there is certainly an impetus to keep supply chains and trade in general flowing. To many, the uncertainty of a ‘no deal’ Brexit and the potential economic devastation when combined with the continuation of the lockdown would prove difficult for the UK economy to cope with, thus making securing a deal vital.
But there is another side to the coin. Coronavirus, in my view, makes an extension less likely with the factors fully considered.
As other contributors have commented, the pandemic makes a solid case against wading further into economic globalisation because, as the world becomes more interconnected socially and economically, the breeding ground for deadly illnesses like coronavirus becomes an increasingly grave reality. Not to mention recent examples of the UK breaking EU state aid rules, showing that the government clearly wants the legislative flexibility offered by being outside of the EU as opposed to intertwined with it. Even the negotiations themselves show no sign of any agreement coming around the corner. Never in the whole Brexit episode, even in the most uncertain of moments, were the two negotiating positions so massively adrift from each other. Just in the last few days, talks broke down yet again with David Frost becoming irked by the EU’s intransigent position and insistence on level playing field mechanisms within the deal.
With those points considered, it seems much more likely that a ‘no deal’ Brexit is just around the corner. However, the unexpected is a regular feature in this great Brexit drama, so watch this space carefully.
Photo by Alex Mihis on Flickr.