The Brexit talks have stalled, the negotiations are in deadlock, and the 30 June deadline to extend the transition is looming. Pragmatic Conservatives need to take stock and re-orientate. It is now clear that we need to keep a border from opening up in the Irish Sea. The fate of the Union is at stake, and although this looming crisis is overshadowed by the pandemic, we must not lose sight of the integrity of the United Kingdom.
Conservatives have always been flexible, and now is the time to adapt to changing circumstances. We cannot go on as we are. The Conservative Party survived the Suez Crisis and it will survive the Brexit Crisis, but only if the party returns to its roots of managing the economy and providing a business-friendly environment coupled with honouring our international treaties. The Covid pandemic has already exposed cracks in the Union, and these fissures will only grow if we don’t start healing them.
The Single Market was a Thatcherite concept, in large part developed by her policy guru Sir Arthur Cockfield in 1985. It is now time to return to Thatcher’s brainchild and stay in the Single Market as well as the Customs Union. That fixes the most serious fissure – the Northern Ireland Protocol, which the UK has already committed to in the WA of January 2020. If the UK stays in both, there will be no need for a customs border, no need for 50,000 customs agents and the accompanying infrastructure.
Committing to staying in both the Single Market and the Customs Union by 31 December is eminently doable, which in turn means all of the UK’s other trade agreements, negotiated while we were a member of the EU, are rolled over. So the FTAs with Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Mercosur and many others are all left intact . We will also be in a better position to keep our state in Horizon 2020, Copernicus, Galileo, Euratom, and many other valuable EU agencies.
If that seems too much of an about-face at the moment, then an extension to the transition period is an absolute must. Covid19 has taken up enormous capacity in Whitehall and in the civil services in all of the EU countries. There simply isn’t the bandwidth to negotiate something wider before 30 June, which is the deadline by which the UK has to extend the transition.
Now is the time for pragmatism and flexibility, hallmarks of Conservatism. Extend the transition, and reconsider remaining part of the Single Market and the Customs Union.
Rosalind Stewart is a member of the CGE. Although born and educated in the USA, Rosalind has lived in London for over 30 years. She holds a BA in Modern History and an MBA and is currently complying a MSc in Global Politics.