Now the Prime Minister has a majority to ‘Get Brexit Done’, he must do so safely and in a way which secures access to EU markets in the long-term, says Dr Nick Fenwick, Farmers’ Union of Wales head of policy.
Given the numbers who thought we would leave the EU the day after the referendum, and the growing fatigue and impatience – even among remainers – it is not surprising that ‘Get Brexit Done’ turned out to be a winning rallying cry for the Conservatives on December 12.
For the millions for whom the slogan chimed perfectly with their own feelings of ‘For God’s sake get Brexit done I’m sick and tired of hearing about it’, February 1 might come as a nasty shock, as the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement by Parliament simply means the UK-EU Brexit negotiations will start in earnest on that date.
Some have speculated that the extension of the transition period is likely or necessary, given the complexity of what must be negotiated and the physical and legal infrastructure which has to be put in place before the end of 2020, but the political impetus for Boris Johnson will be to keep to his promise to ‘get Brexit done’ within his agreed timelines.
One way of minimising the work which must be done by the end of the eleven-month transition period is to reach a deal which maintains a close trading arrangement with the EU.
This is a solution which would also negate the immense political fallout of placing a border in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and meet the FUW’s own long-standing policy objective, which might be described as ‘get Brexit done safely and in a way which secures unfettered access to EU markets’.
However, the clash between the Government’s desire for more sovereignty and freedom to trade with non-EU countries and the EU’s wish to protect its internal markets and standards may represent a major obstacle to this.
With February 1 2020 also marking the date on which trade negotiations can formally start with countries such as the USA, the risk of the UK signing up to a deal which introduces unfair competition from farmers in countries where production standards fall well short of those required of us remains a real spectre.
This is especially concerning given that successive Agriculture Ministers have spoken about increasing rules for UK farmers, while leaked notes from informal UK-US trade discussions refer to lowering food standards and reducing food labelling to allow US food imports.
Perhaps some hope lies in the fact the UK Government now represents many more constituencies where large numbers of jobs rely on access to EU markets, and that the vast majority of Welsh and English farmers are now represented by MPs who are in Government.
The severe economic and social consequences of losing easy EU market access for such constituencies may lead MPs to consider voters’ long-term interests – which are directly linked to their own – as a higher priority than supporting a ‘get Brexit done at any cost’ policy.