Our post-Brexit relationship cannot be left in the hands of ideologues

Our post-Brexit relationship cannot be left in the hands of ideologues

Wednesday, February 22, 2023 10:48 a.m.

Brexit is back in the news

Think back to Christmas 2020. As most of us settled into the couch for a Christmas behind closed doors, shuttle diplomacy saw the UK finally reach a Brexit deal with the EU on future relations of the country with the trading bloc. Boris Johnson hailed it as “good news of great joy”. To everyone, it seemed that the years – oh, so many years – of Brexit battles were behind us.

It turns out we’re back in the quagmire, and this time it’s not particularly the government’s fault. James Cleverly, the increasingly impressive foreign secretary who surprised some of his early critics in the role, and his European counterpart Marco Sefcovic have largely kept negotiations over changes to the deal in the room, rather than present information material on both sides of the Channel. It appeared to everyone as an adult diplomacy.

Predictably, rather than allowing this process to run smoothly, Conservative Party backbenchers have already begun mounting their horses for battle. Despite there being no formal agreement for them to criticize, figures such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson have called on the UK to move forward with legislation that would have the effect of tearing up the whole deal as a bargaining tactic – which rather sticks in the throat, considering they were influential in his writing in the first place.

The irony is that it is hard-line Brexiteers and even Northern Irish trade unionists who have the most to gain from an improved deal, rather than a destroyed deal. Adjusting our relationship with the EU would allow the UK to strike beneficial deals with the bloc – such as joining the Horizon Research Program, for example – while granting us all the regulatory freedoms that they believe will show the benefits of our leaving. Unionists would have certainty and would be able to join the power-sharing deals they are now denouncing. The problem, of course, is that neither group is particularly good at compromise, or even silence. Here we go again.

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