Is Brexit done?

Is Brexit done?

 “Boris Johnson ended a bleak political year with a smile on his face,” said George Parker in the FT. In the end, he achieved something many said was impossible. He prised a free trade deal out of Brussels, and led a unified Conservative party into the Commons lobbies – alongside 162 Labour MPs – to support the new EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. 

During last Wednesday’s emergency debate, “various Tory MPs put Mr Johnson’s name into the same sentence as Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Alexander the Great”. Even Keir Starmer conceded that “a thin deal” was better than “no deal”. After years “of Brexit acrimony, it felt like a chapter was closing on British politics”. At last, “we are free”, said Stephen Glover in the Daily Mail – “free to chart our own course as a sovereign and independent nation”. The year 2021 may be remembered as one of those great turning points in history, like the Glorious Revolution of 1688, or the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. On the other hand, it may not, said Anand Menon in The Guardian. 

The deal was certainly a major coup, but the idea that Brexit is “done” is a fantasy. Many big decisions have been kicked down the road. The EU has yet to decide whether it will grant the UK financial “equivalence” – allowing its financial services companies to trade easily with the EU – and to make a similar decision on data. In five years, the acrimonious negotiations about fish quotas will be reopened. Under the deal, the UK has the right to change its regulations; but the EU has the right to retaliate with trade tariffs. “The trade-offs between autonomy and market access inherent in Brexit have not gone away.” The deal will “inevitably” damage the British economy, said Martin Wolf in the FT. 

The UK has preserved favourable – if worse – access for manufactured goods, which benefits the EU, but not for services, in which Britain has a comparative advantage. The deal also leaves the very survival of the UK in doubt (see page 18). The best that can be said is that it’s better than no deal, and that it will bring to an end the Brexit “delusion” – that “taking back control” from Brussels will solve all the nation’s problems. “A few Remainer refuseniks will keep moaning,” said Liam Halligan in The Daily Telegraph. But the rest of us will feel the benefits immediately. VAT on tampons, as demanded by the EU, has already been scrapped. The 95% of UK firms that don’t export to the EU won’t have to comply with expensive EU rules. Over 60 free trade deals have already been secured. Britain now doesn’t have to pay into the s750bn eurozone rescue fund. We regain control over billions in “Cohesion Fund” cash, which can be used to level up the regions. The truth is that the UK was only ever “half in the EU”, said The Independent. Now it is “half out”. We will never escape the continent’s “gravitational pull”. Nor should we try to. A close relationship with Europe “is in all our interests”.