It’s business as usual; Frost holds firm. There is no need for any “reset”. Yet the Westminster bubble is agonising over a single character in a series of tweets: the “I” in Lord Frost’s statement. Some tried to claim it as evidence that the UK position was slipping, and that the vestiges of Vote Leave were the real guarantors of Brexit. But the prime minister supported by his Commons majority is what guarantees our manifesto promises.
David Frost, the UK’s chief Brexit trade negotiator, reiterated just this weekend: “We are working to get a deal, but the only one that’s possible is one that is compatible with our sovereignty and takes back control of our laws, our trade, and our waters. That has been our consistent position from the start, and I will not be changing it.” This time, we can truly say nothing has changed.
Some who might like less-than-Brexit seem to be stoking false rumours. Do they actually want to make a no deal more likely, by giving false hope to the EU that they should hold out? They hate the idea that the Government is still calmly committed to what the prime minister says, both in private, and in public. As Chair of the Liaison Committee, I read out his categorical statement in September: “Whatever happens, we will not agree to any obligations for our laws to be aligned with the EU’s, or the EU’s institutions, including the Court Of Justice, to have any jurisdiction in the UK.” I then asked: “Can you assure voters that is still your objective?” and he said, “Yes”. What could be clearer?
Whatever else happens, the Prime Minister knows his authority rests on the 2016 Leave vote and the 2019 election landslide. They were won on the commitment to recover our democratic, national, sovereign independence. He knows the “red wall” lent him their support to “get Brexit done” and then to “level up” their opportunities and living standards. There wouldn’t be much levelling up if the final act of Brexit was botched.
Industrial areas far from London would remain oppressed by EU red tape and excessive costs. The UK needs to take back sovereign control over spending, tax and regulation to better advantage the North, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Their coastal communities will only be revived if we take back control of our fish, a vulnerable natural resource ravaged by EU greed and mismanagement. The principled defence of our fisheries is a commitment to real people and to the restoration of our marine environment.
Michel Barnier once offered the UK “Canada Plus”, but that offer was poisoned by EU demands to match EU regulation, to follow EU state aid rules, and to accept EU “governance”. The EU has betrayed its undertakings to negotiate in good faith, to respect UK law and Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom. And it defies the spirit of the Treaty on European Union, which requires it to promote free trade, by threatening to apply tariffs and restrictions on EU-UK trade.
No self-respecting sovereign state would ever accept being treated in this way, nor accept such terms in a free trade agreement. Having voted to be free from EU rule, how much would other nations respect the UK if we signed a new agreement, binding us anew to the EU, and to the rulings of its Court?
All the UK is asking for is for the same respect for our national sovereignty as the EU has agreed with Japan or Canada. After decades of UK taxpayers giving billions every year to the EU, and of guaranteeing European security through Nato, surely the UK is entitled to expect – as Article 8(1) of the EU’s own treaty requires – a little “good neighbourliness”?
Lord Frost closed his weekend statement by saying that “people and businesses must prepare for the change that is coming on Dec 31, most of which happens whether there is a deal or not.” On Nov 6, a report by the National Audit Office on Border Preparedness reported: “It is still likely that widespread disruption will occur from 1 January 2021.” The Government’s latest reasonable worst-case planning assumptions are that 40 to 70 per cent of hauliers will not be ready for these new controls.
Much of this is happening because of an EU policy to introduce covert protectionist measures, such as the requirement for new registration of existing products already approved by the EU. But businesses also report that parts of government are still not ready, with HMRC still struggling with systems and processes when it has had more than four years to prepare for this. This is what the Government should be focusing on now as we reach the final stages of negotiations.
That, however, changes little. Whatever the initial problems, the Prime Minister still knows that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. With the country and the House of Commons behind him, he should feel emboldened as we finally take back control and unleash the spirit of the British people.
Sir Bernard Jenkin is chair of the House of Commons Liaison Committee