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Burying Brexit bad news

Let us move from the era of confrontation to the era of negotiation. 

The current crop of news stories on what’s going on at Westminster – both now and in the past – brings to mind Jo Moore’s rather unfortunate line in her email to MP Stephen Byers on September 11 2001, that it as a ‘good day to bury bad news’.

All the Westminster hoohah – the gropings (and worse), the secret meetings with Middle Eastern PMs, Boris’s latest mouth-before-brain episode – seems to be very useful in hiding the bad news and taking our attention away from it. The bad news that there really does seem to be no movement on how we are going to operate post-Brexit.

More worryingly, it is also taking the politicians’ attention away from actually getting the job done.

We are in grave danger of ending up with no proper deal on this. We are already one quarter of the two-year Article 50 process has already gone. The EU says a deal is needed in 12 months, to allow enough time for ratification.

One year is not really very long when you think of how many treaties and agreements there are. At the last count, there were 759 arrangements from customs procedures and agricultural quotas, to the landing rights of planes. All must be replaced, renegotiated or remade before Britain can really function outside the UK. And by function, I have a nasty feeling I might mean survive.

Never mind the immigration issue and whether we will have enough labour to build anything, I’ve mentioned here before the fact that the customs union, if not sorted out and sorted out properly, has the potential to really screw things up.

The industry isn’t going to suddenly stop importing products from EU countries post-Brexit, it can’t. Neither can manufacturers suddenly stop importing or exporting, nor, for that matter, being owned by a European conglomerate. So sorting the customs union is a priority and not just because, living in Kent, I’ve seen first-hand the effects that Operation Stack has on the local environment and economy. The last thing we need is to have that happen week in week out which is what would happen without getting this vital part of the negotiations right.

It’s not just the south east that this will effect of course. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. The Republic of Ireland, its cross-border neighbour, is not. Not only do we have the whole trading across borders thing to work out but also the cross border immigration thing, just to complicate matters. There is currently free movement of traffic and people at the Irish border that both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland’s economies – including builders’ merchants and building materials manufacturers – rely on.

Maintaining membership of the Customs Union means that the soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland can continue, avoiding threats to the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement.

We did not go through all that pain and angst and hard work getting the Good Friday Agreement in place, only to have it ballsed up by the inability of Westminster to sort this stuff out.

David Davis has warned that the EU negotiators are using the “weapon of time pressure” to turn the screw on Britain in the negotiations. Well of course they are. Just as we would be doing were the positions reversed. It’s called the balance of power, Mr Davis. And right now, the scales do not seem to be in our favour.





About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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