Little over four years ago, on the 23rd of June 2016, the people of this country voted to leave the EU. And now, after plenty of twists and turns, we are on the final straight.
The final hurdle on the race for Britain’s political and economic independence is the remote trade negotiations held between Whitehall and Brussels. However, previous talks between European and British negotiators have proved unsuccessful.
Nonetheless, in contrast to the May administration, Boris Johnson’s government has firmly placed ‘no deal’ on the negotiating table and subsequently the UK has refused to extend the transition period.
Just last week, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, declared that: “We have informed the EU… that we will not extend the transition period. The moment for extension has now passed.”
This came in spite of pleas from the First Ministers of both Scotland and Wales for the Prime Minister to accept the olive branch held out by the Head of the UK Task Force in Brussels, Michel Barnier.
Britain’s chief negotiator, David Frost, held that the reason behind the nation’s decision to reject any extension to trade talks was because it would “leave us liable to pay more to the EU in the future and keep us bound by evolving EU laws at a time when we need to control our own affairs.”
Given the ongoing pandemic and collapse in the British economy, it was essential for the UK’s negotiators to hold firm and reject any form of an extension to trade talks. Why? Well, had the British government buckled it would have cost the taxpayer an estimated £380 billion. That is a staggering £11,400 per household.
But it is not just the astronomical cost of the continued membership fee and required contribution to the coronavirus relief fund that means that the British people are right in opposing an extension to trade talks.
Withdrawing from the restrictive single market and the protectionist customs union will help to ensure Britain its freedom from the ever-growing list of regulations that would jeopardise the nation’s road to economic recovery.
During the referendum, it was estimated that the single market had a net negative cost of over £4.5 billion on British businesses. EU directives, including the EU’s VAT directive, would inhibit the UK’s capability to recover from the economic consequences of the coronavirus.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has already hinted that Number 11 might slash VAT in a bid to encourage sterling to circulate around the economy. However, under the EU’s directive, it would be impossible to lower this to under 15%.
Nevertheless, Britain’s persistence for a limited time frame to negotiate means that the UK and the EU must accelerate trade talks. But what are the causes of the blockage to the two parties reaching an agreement?
The first is fishing. Access to British fishing waters is vital for French, Dutch and Spanish fleets. Brexiteers do not appear to oppose granting access to EU vessels; however, they do want a fair deal for the British fishing industry. Because of the common fisheries policy, British fisherman have access to just two-fifths of our own fish. Instead, we should emulate the agreement between Oslo and Brussels. In this agreement, Norwegian fisherman catch up to 70 per cent of the fish in their own waters. This would alleviate pressures that membership of the bloc has put on fishing and support the economies of our coastal towns.
Brussels has also taken exception to Britain’s insistence that the UK should not be forced to abide by the level playing field set by the EU. While it makes total sense for the EU to object to such a manoeuvre, as an increasingly competitive UK will inevitably challenge the EU’s economy, it is not in the interests of the British people for our economic independence to be held hostage to the world’s fastest declining trading bloc.
Therefore, if the EU persists in demanding that Britain sacrifices its recently retained right to be an independent coastal state or stick to a level playing field then the UK must exit the transition period without an agreement.
However, in pursuit of a cross-Channel agreement, the UK can utilise its newly found position as an independent trading nation in initiating and creating free trade agreements with our allies across the globe. This will not only harvest great economic benefit and improve Britain’s global relations, but it will also exert massive pressure on Brussels’ negotiating team to come to an amicable agreement.
The UK has already instigated trade talks with America, Australia, Japan and New Zealand. While a member of the EU, it was impossible for the UK to create agreements to the benefit of the British people. This will no longer be the case. Our negotiators will not pander to lobbyists representing German car manufactures or French farmers. These deals will be, for the first time in almost half a century, achieved in the interest of the British people.
Such agreements could yield billions of pounds for the British economy, create jobs across the nation and significantly reduce the cost of goods for the benefit of the consumer. For example, it is estimated that a transatlantic free trade agreement could boost the national economy by £15 billion per annum. If Whitehall and Washington DC can agree to a trade agreement, then it is believed that many of the benefits will be received in Scotland, the Midlands and the North-East of England.
Therefore, I, for one, am optimistic. On the 1st of January 2021, the UK would have officially exited the transition period. However, to unleash Britain’s global potential, our negotiators must ensure that the nation is not a part of the constrictive customs union and steadily declining single market. If this means that we must opt for an antipodean-style withdrawal, then so be it.
By J Walters