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A paper-thin Brexit deal isn’t befitting of Great Britain

Prime minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing on coronavirus (COVID-19) in Downing Street, London. - Credit: PA

The Brexit deal we end up with won’t be worth the paper it’s written on, and Boris Johnson is to blame, writes LUISA PORRITT, the Liberal Democrat candidate for mayor of London.

Like many Brits, I have been on a streaming spree of The Crown over lockdown. For those who haven’t been watching, the latest series covers the 1980s and Princess Diana is stealing our hearts all over again. 

The show has faced some criticism for its historical accuracy, but I’ll forgive the directors for deciding against including The Queen’s address to the European Commission. The speech, made forty years ago last month, praised the European project for bringing peace to the continent and giving it a new weight in the world. 

While the speech did not make the final cut of a televised drama, we cannot forget its message. 

In stark contrast with the Conservative politicians of today, who choose isolation and flag-waving, it is a reminder of a Great Britain that looked out proudly onto the world. In the eighties, the UK government drove forward the creation of the European Single Market. By the end of this month, we’ll have abandoned the project we helped to build. 

Leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union will be a historic mistake. The LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance estimates Boris Johnson’s Brexit will leave each of us between £800 and £2000 worse off. This is an appalling choice by the Conservative government, showing little regard for those already suffering amid the recession caused by Covid-19. 

The government has spaffed up (sorry) the negotiations. Boris Johnson thought he could hang the threat of no deal over the EU and scare 27 other countries into submission, using the same divisive tactics he used to sell us the myths of leaving in the first place. This hasn’t proven persuasive. 

What’s more, Johnson’s strategy was bolstered by the belief he would always have an ally in president Donald Trump – an ardent supporter of Brexit. Just like Charles and Diana’s marriage, things didn’t quite turn out as planned.  

President-elect Joe Biden has made it clear there will be no trade deal with the US if Johnson does anything to jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement. The prime minister may not make it for Act Two. 

At this late stage of the negotiations, no deal remains a possibility. But a paper-thin deal is still very bad news for Britain.  

In London, the city I hope to represent next year, our biggest industries are facing unprecedented economic harm. 

Carrying out such complex negotiations in 10 months, just to meet another arbitrary deadline the prime minister set himself, means important areas have been overlooked. Data adequacy has received little attention, but without an agreement on this our thriving tech sector will suffer. Sharing information between businesses in the UK and EU will become harder. 

All along, the government has had the wrong priorities. Ministers have spent far too much time quibbling over fishing rights (0.1% of GDP), when they should have been fighting for equivalence for our financial services sector (7% of GDP). 

This means the gradual chipping away at the City of London’s dominance in Europe’s financial services industry by EU competitors over the past four years will speed up. City firms face new barriers to European markets from 1st January 2021, at a time when the global economy is already suffering dislocation due to Covid-19. This cannot be revisited until next June at the earliest, a period of disruption that will cost us billions. 

Businesses in other sectors are under threat too. Last week, a friend in Belgium sent me a Whatsapp of his latest package to arrive via Amazon UK – carrying a new customs declaration as the country readies itself for Brexit. 

He usually orders vinyls from Flashback Records in Islington. A longer wait, more bureaucracy and higher costs mean next time he’s planning to order from elsewhere. Hundreds of millions of others on the continent who normally buy from UK Plc will be weighing up similar decisions. 

The overall opportunity cost to our small businesses, at a moment when many of them need to be thinking about reaching overseas customers online to help drive the recovery, will be immeasurable. 

Charities and community organisations are also worried sick about loss of access to various EU funding pots. The government promised to step in. But just like the children in need of free school meals they let down during half term, they have failed us all by chasing a Brexit that will be almost as bad no deal – at a time when the economy is already in deep trouble. 

In last week’s Spending Review, the chancellor gave only vague promises to provide ‘more details’ in the Spring – with actual funding unlikely until 2022. He won’t be getting any stars from me for that performance. 

If you’ve enjoyed watching The Crown, it’s worth remembering this was first put on as a play before getting commissioned as a Netflix series. Rather than give adequate support to our struggling arts sector, the government prefers to waste precious public money on a ‘Festival of Brexit’ – a grotesque celebration of a national act of economic and cultural self-harm.  

We have already had a preview of this show, and it doesn’t end well. 

Luisa Porritt is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London, and was a Member of the European Parliament for London 

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