POLITICS ACROSS THE POND — As the MPs return to parliament, Andrew Bridgen reflects on the main events of the week in Westminster: the EU-UK trade negotiations, a new voting system, and the death of George Floyd.
Another week and another issue crosses the Atlantic faster than COVID-19.
With the UK Parliament returning after recess, the COVID-19 pandemic continuing and trade talks between the UK and the EU reaching a critical stage before the July 1st deadline, when the fact that the UK will NOT be seeking an extension to the Transition Period will finally dawn on the remaining EU 27 leaders. Over the next three weeks, we will all see, once and for all, if the European Union are serious about having a free trade deal with the UK, a country which is currently their biggest market, taking 17% of all EU exports and with whom they have a very healthy trade surplus.
All the arguments have been heard before; won’t we just be crashing out without a deal?” and “ How can we put the economy under such additional pressure when the Covid 19 pandemic risks a worldwide recession?”. I would respectfully point out that both of these well-rehearsed and often repeated mantras apply equally to both the UK and the EU in the negotiations.
Those of you who care to remember, will recall that all the political commentators and media believed the EU when they claimed that that the EU would never reopen the “Withdrawal agreement” and would never “remove the backstop”. But as history shows at the 11th hour they did, when they realised they were dealing with a Prime Minister in Boris Johnson, who would not back down and who was determined to deliver on the Referendum result.
If Boris Johnson was willing and able to face down the EU before the 2019 General election when he led a minority Government, why would he not be able to do so now with a huge 80 seat majority in Parliament?
You might have thought that the EU would have got the message by now, The PM has repeatedly stated that we are leaving the transition period on the 31st of December with or without a trade deal. We have passed this into UK law and to extend now would require that law to be changed, the mood of the majority of MP’s and the majority of the British public is that it should not. Even the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) , who represent the largest businesses in the UK and who are not noted for their euro-scepticism (they campaigned vigorously to remain in the EU at the 2016 Referendum) have said that any delay to leaving the transition period would cause more uncertainly to business than it was worth.
The EU’s experienced and very capable negotiator Michel Barnier can now see the writing is on the wall and he is in a very unenviable position, not only does he have to break the bad news to his political masters in the EU, that the now sovereign and independent UK will not bend to their demands, but he also has to sell the idea to the other EU 27 leaders that the UK wants a “Free trade deal” and not their so called “Fair trade deal “ , which is effectively protectionism and which would prevent the UK entering into free trade agreements with other countries.
I am encouraged by the calm and consistent performance of the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost, who while not displaying the media showmanship of his French counterpart, has stood his ground and I am told reports directly to the Prime Minister on an almost daily basis.
The next few weeks will be fascinating as the 1st July deadline looms, but don’t expect any breakthrough in the negotiations until the remaining EU 27 come to terms with the fact that all hope of an extension to the transition period , which would effectively mean the UK staying within the orbit of control of the EU, is extinguished.
Return to Parliament
Our return to Parliament this week saw the introduction of another new voting system, taking into account the need for social distancing and the end of virtual debates and remote voting. The new protocol has caused a” few problems” and votes have taken considerably longer than normal, much to the frustration and anger of some who would have liked to stay with the virtual and remote system. Any new system will take time to bed in and I saw the humorous side of it describing it as “ like democracy but slower”.
The reason many of us were keen to see the virtual sittings and remote voting ended as soon as practicable was because the longer these emergency measures remained in place the harder it would be to ultimately remove them. Some elements in our Parliament, such as the Scottish National Party, who’s declared ambition is an end to the Government from Westminster, would have never or seldom have attended our Parliament again if remote voting had continued and this would clearly undermine the working of our democracy.
Also, how could any Government ask increasing numbers of our citizens to return to their places of work after the lock-down, if their elected representatives did not do likewise however inconvenient?
The death of George Floyd
I cannot end this week’s article without commenting on the issue which has spread faster than the virus between our two countries, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The circumstances of his death are deeply regrettable, but so is the violence , destruction, and looting which has marred the mostly peaceful protests which resulted.
The complete disregard of social distancing on many of the protests has also been deeply disappointing. The fact is Black lives do matter, but surely all lives matter and the virus we face does not discriminate. This irresponsible behaviour puts everyone at risk.
The fact is that Derek Chauvin, the policemen involved, has been arrested and will rightly face the full force of the law for his actions as will his police colleagues who stood by and did nothing to stop him. Even with a trawl of the internet, I can’t find one piece of evidence that any significant figure of any color, race, or religion believes that what Derek Chauvin did was not wrong and should be not be investigated and ultimately following due process be prosecuted.
How this matter, in an American city, which few British citizens could place on a map and even fewer will have visited could lead to British police officers being assaulted and injured in London is inexcusable, indefensible, and undermines the huge outpouring of anti-racist support the tragic event has engendered.
Rather like democracy which is far from perfect, but is better than anything else we have tried, it is only the law which will provide justice for George Floyd and the law, despite never being perfect, is all we have between our societies and anarchy and must be respected on both sides of the Atlantic.