Political leaders risk exacerbating the consequences of this terrible biological crisis by inflicting a new geopolitical oneby Jonathan Lis / March 20, 2020 / Leave a comment
As we lurch further into this unique crisis it is actually reassuring to remember when “self-isolation” simply referred to Britain’s new foreign policy. Our lives for the foreseeable future are transforming beyond measure, and the daily nightmare forces everything else into a grimly clear perspective. Coronavirus is infinitely more serious than Brexit. Setting aside even the stark human cost, it could prove incomparably more damaging to our society, culture and economy. But the response should not be to forget Brexit. It is, in fact, precisely why we need to keep talking about it.
Let us first remind ourselves of the facts. The transition period is scheduled to end on 31st December, and parliament has legislated to prevent any extension. An already impossibly tight deadline is narrowing by the day. Like almost everything else in Europe, the virus has stopped the trade negotiations in their tracks. Both the UK and EU have the political bandwidth to address this crisis alone. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has himself contracted Covid-19. If there was any remote chance of signing off a deal before, there is none at all now.
The good news is that in a world of intractable problems, here is one that can be fixed. It doesn’t even require a politically demanding or time-consuming change to the withdrawal agreement. The treaty provides for an extension of up to two years, the EU was (before the virus) already encouraging us to accept one, and as this crisis progresses, the government will face no political consequences whatever for agreeing to one. Indeed, Boris Johnson could potentially face a backlash for refusing it. The deadline for extending is the end of June—by which time we are likely to be at the peak of this disaster. If we can postpone every major event on earth until then, we can postpone our voluntary economic collapse. Everyone knows we will have to extend. We must accept the inevitable now and legislate for it.
But this issue is more fundamental than timetabling. The fact that coronavirus presents an epochal economic calamity does not mitigate the dire impact of Brexit. Indeed, the two things cannot be separated. The virus is halting the UK economy as we know it. Entire industries are in…