I shall vote for the agreement reached with the European Union . I shall do so not because it is perfect – far from it – but because it is the least worst of the options available. To have ended the transition period with no deal at all would, I believe, have resulted in an economic stress and uncertainty that, on top of the damage caused to our economy by coronavirus, that would be quite simply unsustainable.
It appears to me, however, that we have spent the last four years and huge amounts of time, money and political capital reinventing the wheel. The suggestion that we have “ achieved a trade deal worth six hundred and fifty billion pounds “ with the European Union has all the hallmarks of a “side- of- the- bus” campaign slogan about it that is, to say the least, disingenuous.
What we are now presented with is an agreement that delivers most but not all of the trade arrangements that we previously enjoyed with the remaining twenty-seven countries of the European Union with strings attached and no further say in policy or regulation.
We shall no longer be members of the Customs Union so although our trade with the EU will continue to be tariff-free and unlimited by quota or quantity our exporters and importers will face a level of bureaucracy and paperwork that can only add to the cost of the goods that we purchase and to a further loss of productive jobs. Kent will face the additional requirement to process the “Kent Access Pass” that will still be required to establish that freight vehicles are carrying the correct documentation before they are allowed to enter the county.
The agreement reached is a trade deal. It does not cover the financial and other services that make up much of the European economic benefit to the United Kingdom and it has yet to be seen to what extent those sectors will, over time, be diminished as a result of our departure from the EU.
We also shall no longer be part of the Erasmus student exchange programme that has benefitted generations of British students through exposure to the talents of pan-European institutions . Erasmus will be replaced with a UK taxpayer funded multi-million pound global “Turing” scholarship scheme to facilitate worldwide educational travel. The full details have yet to be released but as the best educational institutions outside the United Kingdom and the “Ivy League” US universities are in Europe we have to hope that British students will still be able to access those centres of academic excellence.
As it stands the agreement contains inadequate provision for the hitherto accepted mutual recognition of professional qualifications . That will inevitably have the potential to inhibit the free exchange of medical and veterinary professionals, of which the UK already suffers from a desperate shortage, engineers, architects, lawyers , scientists and many others from whose services we have all benefitted over many years.
We also have to hope that relationships between our own and European security and counter-terrorism forces will somehow be maintained but the formal Europol and other liaisons will clearly be weakened to the disadvantage of both the UK and the EU and to the advantage of those powers and movements that wish us ill.
Freedom of movement has, with to date no reduction in net immigration, been replaced with restrictions upon our own freedom to travel and remain within the countries of Europe as well as with restrictions upon those from European countries upon whose labour our health and care services, agriculture and many other industries and businesses have depended.
Our health cover within the European Union is said to have been preserved following the expiry of the E111 health insurance card but the details are unclear and as of today Government advice remains that those travelling abroad should, if they can get it, take out health insurance. As of 31st December, unless a further agreement is reached before the end of the week, all those driving abroad will also be required to carry and produce on demand require a green motor insurance certificate.
We have, until now, “punched above our weight” in the global ring . “Brexit” has, however, come at a significant cost in diplomatic and international standing as we have recently demonstrated a willingness to break our word and formal undertakings.
Do not underestimate the long-term effects of the crass handling of the “Internal Markets Bill” Even our staunchest of allies in the United States and the `Old Commonwealth` have watched in disbelief as we have shredded political and economic capital and tossed it to the four winds. We are still a member of NATO, certainly, and at present we maintain our place at the High Table in the United nations.
We also remain signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights and to our membership of the Council of Europe. But for how long will this United Kingdom now remain united? The Scots will, if afforded the opportunity, hold and are likely to win an independence referendum, leave the EU and re-join the European Union and if that happens it is highly likely that Northern Ireland would then wish to hold the necessary plebiscite and unite with the Irish Republic and also the EU.
Will the “Brexit Emperor” be revealed to have no clothes? And will Mr. Johnson go down in history as the Prime Minister who precipitated the break-up of our United Kingdom? I am not always right and I hope that I am wrong this time. I am passionately British and a patriot and I fervently hope that the Union and our standing in the world will be maintained for another thousand years. But I have grave doubts.
On the brighter side, we have a deal. Our businesses and industries now have a degree of certainty upon which to plan the brave new world.
We also have a supply of vaccines coming on stream that may see the end of the Covid 19 pandemic and without dangerously over-promising 2021 will perhaps be the year in which we can all begin to return to normality and to re-build not just our economy but our health, our happiness and our family and community lives.