Sammy Wilson: Delaying our exit from the Brexit transition period will not lead to a better trade deal for the UK

In a week which has seen little progress in the negotiations between the UK and the EU about the shape of the relationship which will exist after December 2020, there have been the inevitable calls for a further extension in the transition period.

By Sammy Wilson
Wednesday, 27th May 2020, 1:30 pm
Boris Johnson, seen above in a packed House of Commons in February, before social distancing measures. Sammy Wilson writes: "The EU is not dealing with a minority government at Westminster any more. They have a prime minister who has a 'stomping majority' and who actually wants to be totally disentangled from the EU"
Boris Johnson, seen above in a packed House of Commons in February, before social distancing measures. Sammy Wilson writes: "The EU is not dealing with a minority government at Westminster any more. They have a prime minister who has a 'stomping majority' and who actually wants to be totally disentangled from the EU"

During that period the UK will remain full members of the EU only without any input into EU decisions

The arguments are made by the same people and same groups who have fought a guerrilla campaign against the democratic decision of the people of the UK to leave the EU nearly four years ago now they have added the Covid -19 crisis into their armoury.

That is why it is timely that a well-documented carefully argued report from the Centre for Brexit Policy, a think tank which along with members of other parties at Westminster I helped to set up, has been published this week.

Rt Hon Sammy Wilson is DUP MP for East Antrim and a director at the Centre for Brexit Policy

It draws together arguments, analysis and independent public opinion surveys which cogently set out the case for sticking to the timetable which has now been set in law by Parliament for concluding an agreement with the EU by the end of the year.

Already we are seeing EU negotiators and their supporters ruthlessly exploiting the world wide health crisis which has put economies everywhere into a spin. They argue that the energy devoted to dealing with coronavirus and its economic impact has meant negotiations have been affected.

That of course is not true, negotiators are meeting regularly, those involved in negotiations have a different skill set than officials who are required to advise ministers about trade and relationships with the EU.

The only impediment is the political will to do a deal.

On the EU side delay has huge advantages. It means that the UK keeps paying into the EU, can’t benefit from free trade agreements (FTAs) with other countries outside the EU and can’t improve competitiveness internationally because it is tied to EU rules whilst the transition period is in place.

The cost of this is estimated at £380 billion if the transition period were extended by two years. Of course the aim of the EU negotiators is to stretch out the talks for as long as possible in order to totally undermine Brexit.

Getting negotiations completed by the end of this year is important for business certainty, government finances and economic recovery.

This health crisis has already left the UK with a fiscal deficit which is likely to be bigger than that incurred in World War Two.

If we are to avoid huge tax increases or public sector spending cuts then we have to grow our private sector, increase our trade and give consumers the benefits of the lower prices which result from that trade.

We will not do that whilst we are held within the economic stranglehold of EU regulations. As the report points out there are huge benefits from being able to do trade more freely with the rest of the world, our trade grew six times more with those countries with whom we have no trade agreements than they did with the EU.

Ironically those countries who trade with the EU under the World Trade Organisation rules which would apply to us in the absence of a trade agreement with the EU, grew their trade with the EU at a faster rate than we did as members of the EU.

Delay will not result in a better deal. The way to get the best deal is to keep the EU under pressure. The fact of the matter is that whether they have recognised it or not the direction of pressure in these negotiations has changed.

The EU is not dealing with a minority government at Westminster any more. They have a prime minister who has a “stomping majority” and who actually wants to be totally disentangled from the EU. We have already seen the difference this has made in NI with a flat refusal to give into the Irish and the EU in relation to their demand for an oversight office in Belfast.

The report points out that putting pressure on the EU now rather than allowing for leisurely negotiation over an extended transition period is likely to get the kind of FTA which will result in the NI protocol having to be revamped to ensure that “these arrangements would not encroach on UK (or EU) sovereignty and would not involve any application of EU law in Northern Ireland”.

The independent survey carried out by a polling organisation shows that the British public are not in favour of an extension and realise that an extension only benefits the EU. 44% are against an extension with 40 percent in favour. 45% believe we will be better off out against 28% holding a contrary view and 45% believe that the government can deal with Covid-19 and negotiations at the same time as opposed to 24% who think otherwise.

The people say get Brexit done by the end of the year. The economy needs it done by the end of the year. The law requires it done by the end of the year.

The government has committed to getting it done by the end of the year. There is no case for delay.

l Rt Hon Sammy Wilson is DUP MP for East Antrim and a director at the Centre for Brexit Policy