Our post-Brexit relationship cannot be left in the hands of ideologues
Cast your mind back to Christmas 2020. As most of us settled into the sofa for a Christmas behind-closed-doors, shuttle diplomacy saw the UK finally secure a Brexit deal with the EU on the country’s future relationship with the trading bloc. Boris Johnson hailed it as “glad tidings of great joy.” To all the world it looked as if the years – oh, so many years – of Brexit battles were behind us.
As it turns out, we’re back in the morass, and this time it’s not particularly of the government’s doing. James Cleverly, the increasingly impressive foreign secretary who has surprised some of his early critics in the role, and his EU counterpart Marco Sefcovic have largely kept negotiations over tweaks to the deal within the room, rather than briefing papers on both sides of the channel. It has appeared for all the world like grown-up diplomacy.
Predictably, rather than allowing this process to run smoothly, the Conservative party’s backbenches have already begun mounting their horses for battle. Despite the fact that there is no formal agreement for them to criticise, figures including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson have called for the UK to push ahead with legislation which would effectively rip up the whole deal as a negotiating tactic – which does rather stick in the craw, considering they were influential in its writing in the first place.
The irony is that it is the hardened Brexiteers and indeed the Northern Irish unionists who have most to gain from an improved deal, rather than a wrecked one. Settling our relationship with the EU would allow the UK to do beneficial deals with the bloc – like rejoining the Horizon research programme, for instance – whilst allowing us all the regulatory freedoms that they believe will show the benefits of our departure. Unionists would have certainty, and be able to rejoin power sharing agreements they are currently kiboshing. The problem, of course, is that neither of these groups are especially good at compromise, nor indeed silence. Here we go again.