Has Covid-19 infected the Brexit process? For diehard believers in the EU, it has become the excuse they were looking for. The government should extend the Brexit deadline “if necessary”, says Keir Starmer – a master of the snide insinuation – clearly hinting that in his opinion it will be necessary.
Like a bad penny, Gina Miller turns up again to say she “now believes Britain’s exit from the EU must be delayed”, according to the Daily Mail. And (surprise, surprise) the EU has let it be known that it would agree to an extension if Britain asked for it.
The infection has spread to Tory ranks, too. Nick de Bois (Dominic Raab’s former chief of staff) told The Times that the public would find it “incomprehensible” to push ahead with Brexit during the pandemic.
Actually, what would be incomprehensible would be for the government to give in to the siren song that Covid-19 has made Brexit impossible. On the contrary, the epidemic has made it even more urgent to extract ourselves from the economic destruction wrought on Britain’s economy by the EU – and made any delay potentially even more damaging.
First consider that any delay would mean extending the transition period, under which Britain is subject to all EU rules but has no role in shaping them. Under which Britain is subject to all rulings of the European Court of Justice but has no judges sitting on its bench. Delay means extending this period of vassalage. The impact of that would be, literally, incalculable.
‘What would be incomprehensible would be for the government to give in to the siren song that Covid-19 has made Brexit impossible…’
Who knows what directives will spew forth from the European Commission as it struggles to restore the very concept of a European Union? As it struggles to make itself relevant to anyone after revealing itself as impotent to stop the suspension of free movement, of Schengen? As it stumbles over every move to offer financial support to hard-hit economies?
Think what delay would mean to the fishing industry, already hanging on for dear life while EU ships plunder Britain’s fishing stocks and EU regulations make it increasingly impossible for smaller ships to fish economically. It would be a death sentence for British fishing.
Further delay would mean being forced to send further billions off to Brussels, money needed here to rebuild Britain. Worse, Britain is increasingly likely to be saddled with its “share” of the EU debt that has piled up, on top of the debt the government has already incurred.
And for how long? Covid-19, we are being constantly told, is likely to come back again in the autumn. Once you start a delay, when do you stop? (Never, you can hear the diehard EU lovers saying to themselves.)
All this at a time when Britain is seeking to conclude trade agreements with countries from Australia to the US – none of which will be happy to sign an agreement if they don’t even know when it will start.
While Britain will still be a trading nation, attention is already turning to concepts of security. Energy security has been discussed for a while. To this we should now add health security.
What do we need to make here, or be able to produce rapidly, to cope with expected medical emergencies? Make your own list: gowns, face masks, rubber gloves, ventilators, vaccines, antibiotics.
What do we need to do to ensure food security? If farms can charter planes (half full at most to ensure social distancing) to import Romanians to pick crops, why can’t they afford to pay British workers proper wages to pick them?
Who do we need to train here? When will we end the reliance on imported medical staff?
Out of the EU Britain be free to restructure the economy to make it more able to cope with future epidemics. Government action will be necessary to shift the economy away from its dependence on long supply chains. The last thing Britain needs is to have to go begging to Brussels over every move involving state aid.
What is clear from all the chatter about delay is that the enemies of Brexit have not given up. They will use anything, even the tragedy of Covid-19, to try to overturn the will of the British people.
The forces for Brexit cannot afford to sit back and wait for the Covid-19 crisis to blow over. We must demand, loudly: No delay. Not another day under the EU thumb.