Confirmation on Friday that the Government had formally told the EU that it would not extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020 was very welcome news.
It has been a long time coming. Four and a half years after voting for Brexit, it finally looks like the nation can take advantage of the economic benefits leaving the EU offers, as we fight to overturn the economic crisis thrust on us by the coronavirus.
The Boris Johnson administration has undeniably been far more reliable on Brexit than the chaotic flip-flopping we witnessed under the May Government. Boris and senior ministers have consistently said that Britain would not extend the transition period and the statement by Cabinet minister Michael Gove at the end of last week solidifies this.
Politically, it was a very sensible move. In a Savanta ComRes poll last month, 44 per cent of voters said the transition period should remain as arranged or shortened, compared to 40 per cent who wanted an extension. So leaving at the end of the year is popular across the country.
But what about the former Labour-held Red Wall seats in the Midlands and the North that were absolutely vital to the Tories’ December 2019 election victory and will determine whether the Tories will win re-election? Tory strategists will be looking very carefully at what makes these voters tick.
Brexit delivered on time is crucially important to these voters, as polling commissioned by the Centre for Brexit Policy demonstrated at the weekend. The poll, also conducted by Savanta ComRes, showed a clear majority of voters in the Red Wall seats – 51 per cent to 42 per cent – were opposed to an extension of the transition period. So the Government, while coming in for widespread criticism for its approach to the coronavirus crisis as well as its rather limp response to the ongoing culture war, is at least getting its Brexit strategy right.
The ‘no delay’ position is even stronger among those in the Red Wall who voted Labour in 2017 but switched to the Tories in 2019, largely because the Boris ‘Get Brexit Done’ mantra appealed to those betrayed by the Theresa May/ Jeremy Corbyn/ Establishment approach to Brexit. By 56 per cent to 43 per cent, this electoral group, absolutely critical to winning the next election, want Brexit on time or even sooner. This figure then leaps to a 73 per cent to 23 per cent majority among those who voted Conservative in Red Wall seats in both 2017 and 2019.
People in the Red Wall seats want Brexit delivered on time, in full, and they want to see the benefits as soon as possible. The economic devastation the country is experiencing because of coronavirus can be tackled by embracing the opportunities Brexit offers us, and the Government must be radical and fearless in creating a new Brexit Britain, exploiting every opportunity available to us now we are a free nation again.
We are not yet home and dry, however. The campaign to Remain in the EU, or more accurately, Rejoin the EU, will stop at nothing to thwart Brexit. Its advocates are now using coronavirus to make their case to extend the transition period. These campaigners have had very few wins in the past four years, however they are very well connected, well-funded and still have the support of powerful establishment groups like the CBI. They will stop at nothing – we cannot write them off.
There are six months to go until the transition period ends. In normal times, six months is a long time in politics. With the coronavirus taking hold, six hours is a long time in politics.
Think back six months ago. Boris had just won an eighty-seat majority and planned to secure his place in history as the PM who delivered Brexit. People were preparing for Christmas, vast numbers pouring into shops to buy presents, travelling across the country, across the world, to be with friends and family. If someone had told you during Christmas dinner chit chat that the country would close down completely in March, in April the UK economy would crash by a record 20.4 per cent and the Government would be paying a quarter of UK workers wages by May, you would have thought they had had one too many sherbets.
These are unprecedented times. The nightmare rollercoaster ride the country – the world for that matter – find itself on is far from over. In fact, things could get much worse. Brexit and the coronavirus are not two separate things, as the anti-Brexit forces claim. Brexit is a crucial part of aiding our national recovery from coronavirus and the Government is right to rule out an extension. It must stand firm on this position, regardless of the new Project Fear propaganda peddled by Rejoiners.