Boris Johnson entered Number 10 after his resounding electoral victory with several important promises to keep. Promises from the 2016 referendum and from the 2019 general election campaign. It was these promises that delivered the Conservative Party’s victory and broke through the Red Wall. The message that the Conservative Party would restore control of our laws, borders, money and fish resonated with voters and those who had been frustrated by three years of Brexit delay.
The post-Brexit trade deal has been completed, signed on the dotted line and ratified by both sides. The details of what has been agreed are plain to see, albeit in well over 1,000 pages of detail. In the run-up to the deal being announced there were concerns about the direction that the negotiations appeared to have been going in. For example, polling commissioned by the Centre for Brexit Policy (CBP) had a stark warning for the Prime Minister. These same voters that gave the Conservatives an 80-strong majority at the election a year ago would not have been minded to vote Conservative again if he failed to deliver on his promises.
However, it is clear that the Prime Minister has largely held true to what he promised the nation and has remembered what has brought him to power. What has been brought back is clearly a fully fledged trade deal, that is mostly respectful of the UK’s sovereignty and has delivered on most of his key pledges during the referendum campaign and the 2019 election.
Namely, the Brexit deal restores the supremacy of the British Parliament and courts, control of UK fishing waters, power over UK trade tariffs, ends the threat of future UK cash payments to Brussels, and returns the right to strike independent trade deals across the world. The ECJ has been toppled from its lofty position of power and will hopefully never again have the ability to impinge on the British legal system or upon British legislation.
It was vital for Boris to have delivered on these pledges as, for example, if the UK had been unable to create its own trade deals under the terms of the Brexit deal 55 per cent of those polled by Savanta ComRes, on the back of the CBP’s Brexit Scorecard, said that they would be less likely to vote Conservative – of which the majority said that they would be much less likely.
While the initial exit negotiations are behind us, this is not the end of the changes to our relationship with the EU. Nor indeed, does the long-awaited deal wrap everything up in a neat bow to be put in a keepsake box and forgotten.
Firstly, there is almost nothing in the deal on how services will be conducted between the two sides. While this agreement may not have been the correct time to go into detail on any future arrangements, it is essential that there is some sort of official clarification of how things will proceed in the future as services make up such an integral part of the UK economy.
Moreover, there are several other areas that remain unresolved, including questions surrounding the defence portions of the deal. For example, the part of the agreement on fishing, while a good first step, is perhaps not quite the result that many were looking for. Indeed, given that there is transition period until the next quota negotiation in 2026, we may end up with a new government that is less interested in rebuilding the UK’s fishing industry – which has just received a £100m boost – or maintaining the UK’s control over its sovereign waters.
Perhaps the most important problem with the deal is that it does not deliver for the whole of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland will have a different tax regime – and remain part of the customs union, under the ECJ, in the single market and subject to various other EU controls.
Although there are other problems with the deal, they are tolerable in the short term as compromises to get a deal over the line. This one is not, how can the UK be a sovereign nation if part of it is still subject to foreign control? How can Boris claim to have delivered for the whole nation when part of it is now so clearly distinct? Bringing Northern Ireland back into the full sovereignty of the UK must be the first priority for the government as it seeks to move the UK along its new post-Brexit path.