Political commentator John Rentoul answers your most Brexit pressing questions

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Britain left the European Union on 31 January 2020, but Brexit talks are not over yet.

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Negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol have surfaced again.

The European Union and the UK are set for an intense round of talks in the coming weeks after Brussels published a series of proposals aimed at easing red tape imposed on moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.


Here our political commentator, John Rentoul, answers your questions.

Q: There is no doubt that the current “crisis” over the NI protocol is dramatic news and has potentially far-reaching consequences. Where do you think the landing zone is for this new twist of Brexit?

I think the EU proposals provide a good basis for a deal, allowing the lightest checks on goods going to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. I am not sure what will happen to the British demand to abolish the role of the European Court in the NI. I don’t know that Boris Johnson and [Lord David] Frost is pushing it – do they see it as a way to convince the anti-protocol federalists in NI to support it, in which case they should make a better case for it.

Question: Do you see the latest talks as a serious attempt to remove the entire withdrawal agreement? [WA]?

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No, I can’t see what that would mean. It could be a bargaining position, designed to leave the EU in exchange for concessions; Or it may be an attempt to convince anti-federalists that the protocol has been fundamentally changed. The danger is that if the EU refuses, it could strongly oppose the protocol; Even a Swiss-style settlement, putting the arbitration process before a European court, could only escalate protests.

Question: In which decade is Britain expected to gain more than it lost economically?

In my opinion this cannot happen. I think making trade more difficult with our main market will definitely make us poorer than we would be for the foreseeable future. This does not mean that we will be poorer than before Brexit, although the picture is confounded by the pandemic, but magical future trade deals with growing economies in the rest of the world are unlikely to make a difference.

But economics itself isn’t everything, and people are willing to pay a price for freedom – ask the SNP, who is willing to pay a lot.

Question: Did voters not give the Tories a majority in parliament to seal WA and maintain that WA is executing “the will of the people”? To break or radically change WA is against the “will of the people”, isn’t it?

I don’t think it is correct that the UK government puts all the responsibility for peace on Ireland and the EU. The status of Northern Ireland, and in particular the need to maintain an open border with the republic, means that both the sovereignty of the UK and the EU will have to be compromised. The question is where the balance should be struck, and in my view the EU’s desire to impose stricter checks on goods going to NI from the rest of the UK (which was never enforced) was unhelpful, and that’s good. That the EU has moved on. As far as changing the protocol (part of the withdrawal agreement) is concerned, which may suit the will of the people in Northern Ireland, where currently opinion is divided equally in favor and against the protocol. If changes could be made to increase support for the protocol, wouldn’t that be a good thing?

Question: Given that Johnson agreed to the Northern Ireland Protocol in exchange for only a very slim trade deal (and no services deal), would it have probably been better (Johnson/[Dominic] Cummings perspective) has chosen the no-deal route and then challenges the EU to force Dublin to impose a border with the NI?

I think a “diluted” trade deal was much better for us than no deal, which would have really disrupted UK-EU trade. On the other hand, you are right that the EU and Ireland never acknowledged that the threat of imposing EU limits on the island of Ireland was what they were concerned about. It should still be on their mind, because that is what is behind the UK’s threat to suspend the NI protocol under Article 16. Much better for both parties to come to a practical compromise, though.

Question: Do the EU concessions apply only to GB-NI trade or more broadly to UK-EU trade as well?

Only for goods moving from GB to NI, as Boris Johnson insisted that Brexit would mean leaving the EU Customs Union. We should be clear that the light-touch regime for GB-NI goods is a significant concession by the European Union, as it allows for potential breaches in internal market limits, but both sides have had to accept unusual rules. Consistent with Britain leaving the Customs Union to create an open border in Ireland.

Q: Will UK employers be able to pay higher wages to attract local workers? Can their businesses afford it or will prices have to increase to cover such an increase which will lead to inflation that negates wage growth? Businesses operating on small profit margins may go down if they cannot attract cheap labor.

The idea that wages in Britain have been suppressed by the importation of cheap labor from Central Europe is understandable, but there is little evidence for this. In fact, new workers arriving in the UK tended to increase productivity (as well as spend the majority of their wages here), thus making us all better. A wage-price inflation spiral is not going to make people in the UK generally better, although wages in some deficient areas may temporarily rise higher than in the rest.

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