“UK’s new start – Let’s get going” say the government ads portraying Brexit as a wonderful opportunity. More instructive is the government’s emergency purchase of a 1.2m square feet site in Kent, 20 miles from Dover, to create a giant customs clearance facility for the ten thousand lorries that come through the port every day.
Particularly if there is a No Deal Brexit, and even with the kind of hard-Brexit deal the government wants, the UK faces major economic and social destruction when the transition period ends on 31 December.
It will be even worse in the midst of the economic and social fallout from Covid-19, likely to be in full flow at the end of 2020.
The Tories will take the opportunity to ratchet up their right-wing, worker-bashing, migrant-bashing agenda. The labour movement, whatever our different views on the “principle” of Brexit itself, must argue at every step against the Tories and to minimise the new barriers between countries. Another Europe is Possible is campaigning on such issues: see here.
If Brexit goes ahead on 1 January, the chances of a “good” deal or anything like one, avoiding major disruption and regression, are minimal.
When the legal deadline for extending the transition period passed on 30 June, the possibilities for doing so narrowed. The case to delay Brexit, to allow proper democratic scrutiny and planning, did not change.
On 15 July SNP leader Ian Blackford moved in Parliament to welcome the EU’s openness to extending the transition period and for the government to immediately accept. Labour’s spokesperson Paul Blomfeld attacked the SNP proposal and Labour MPs abstained, producing a government majority of 321 to 57.
The labour movement’s failure to demand an extension, with Labour figures occasionally breaking the silence only to waffle, has been a major factor in allowing the Tories to evade accountability over all this.
If the government is forced to request a delay, the EU will very likely find a way, despite the missed deadline. If there are new crises in the government’s Brexit plans, new opportunities for extension may open up. In any case, we should tell the truth about what Brexit this year will mean, continue to make the case for delay, use new crises to re-make the case against Brexit altogether, and fight the Tories step by step.