25th August 2020
European negotiations have a habit of running until the fifty-ninth minute of the eleventh hour before, suddenly, agreements are reached. It is, therefore, still possible that a deal will be struck prior to the end of our transition period and, remembering that we have already left the EU and so that is no longer in question, in time for it to be ratified before we break the tie with Europe on December 31st. . Time, though, is perilously short and there is every impression coming out of Brussels that we are as far from reaching an agreement as we were months ago.
To be sure, the leader of the Irish Republic, Micheal Martin, wants a deal and so do a number of other European countries whose trade relationships with the UK are worth billions of euros. Set against that is the apparent intransigence of Europe`s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, taking an `if you want tariff-free trade you have to stay in the club ` approach with a very Gallic view of the need to preserve the right of Eu, and particularly French, fishermen to trawl our waters. On those matters the gulf seems as wide as ever.
David Frost, our own Chief Negotiator and the man designated by Mr. Johnson, and presumably approved by Mr. Cummings, to succeed Sir Mark Sedwill as Cabinet Secretary and National Security Adviser, and described by Theresa May and singularly unqualified for the latter part of the job, has a great deal to prove. There will be many, no doubt, who will cheer if we finally leave the EU without an agreement and are left to fall back on WTO terms, yet to be negotiated, of the kind upon which we already trade with other countries. There are many others, and I am one of them, who will regard a failure to secure a trade and relationship agreement with the EU as a personal and abject failure on the part of the Prime Minister`s choice as the next Cabinet Secretary and as a bad result for both the UK and for the rest of Europe.
There is a great deal at stake and time is now perilously short if a conclusion is to be reached that will satisfy not only the UK parliament but the European Parliament in which we no longer have a vote, as well. Without those approvals any deal will fall.
Contrary to the dire predictions of some the world will not end if we do have to operate under WTO rules, I do not believe that ` the future of the NHS is at stake` in any trade agreement with the United States and as a committed animal welfarist neither do I believe that our markets will be flooded with chlorinated chicken from America. I do know, though, that we will have to strike fresh trade agreements with many other countries outside the European Union and that many of those countries also want to sell us food products generated under conditions that would not be permitted in the UK. It would be a betrayal if the `freedom from EU rules governing the free movement of goods` promised by the Prime Minister, Michael Gove and others during the referendum campaign were to be translated into still worse trade agreements with other nations. It is a pity, therefore, that the New Clause that I supported and that would have given parliament a say both before and after trade negotiations was defeated. We have firm undertakings from the Despatch Box, certainly, but I would have preferred to have seen those undertakings enshrined in law.
There is still time, but only just. If I was a betting man I would put money on a last-minute deal with the EU but it would be a very modest amount. I do not doubt that the United Kingdom will survive and eventually prosper again if faced with the alternative but to do so will involve a lot of time and energy expended in re-inventing the wheel. Post-Covid 19 and faced with economic recession and trillions of pounds worth of debt that is the last thing that our children and our grandchildren need.