Angus Robertson: Going ahead with no-deal Brexit is 'worse than irresponsible'
It is two minutes to midnight to reach a Brexit trade agreement and we find ourselves in the worst possible time in the worst imaginable circumstances.
As the UK faces a harsh new lockdown because of a highly infectious new covid strain the UK is being locked out of travel and trade is impeded to countries around the world, even before the Brexit deadline at the end of the month.
According to health officials the new Covid-19 variant which recently emerged in London and the south-east of England is up to 70% more transmissible than the original strain. The prospects for a third wave of infections dwarfing what has gone before is real and hugely concerning. Having learned the lessons from the initial outbreak, travel bans have been swift and decisive. In addition to flights being suspended from the UK, haulage traffic with the European continent has been stopped. Scottish exporters are already reporting the loss of thousands of pounds of trade as lorries have been turned back.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is absolutely right to lead calls for a common sense solution: “It’s now imperative that PM seeks an agreement to extend the Brexit transition period. The new Covid strain - & the various implications of it - means we face a profoundly serious situation, & it demands our 100% attention. It would be unconscionable to compound it with Brexit”.
Things are that bad that there are similar echoes from within the Conservative party. Simon Hoare is Tory MP for North Dorset: “With worsening Covid situation & time of the year I’d really like to see the clock temporarily “stopped” on Brexit talks. There’s no Parly time to scrutinise & agree a Deal & daily clarity of the dangers to our already pressured economy of No Deal is alarming. Time for maturity” Sadly, this outbreak of sanity has not been shared by the Labour Party, with their leader Sir Keir Starmer refusing to back an extension.
Not only has time run out for the UK parliament to properly scrutinise any deal, but the European Parliament has to ratify any arrangements too. As leading German MEP Manfred Weber makes clear, it is unlikely to be bounced into an agreement: “Political games from Westminster have wasted too much time. It is now impossible for Parliament to assess a deal before the end of the year. We will not rubber-stamp any text, it is too important. As the only directly elected EU body, we should not rush our decision”.
In the middle of this hundreds of lorries are backed up on roads to Channel ports, supermarkets are trying to calm fears of food shortages and coronavirus cases reported at the weekend rose by 35,928, nearly double the number from the week before. Despite the fact that covid vaccinations are underway, we are some way away from the vaccination rate that public health experts like Professor Devi Sridhar think is necessary to suppress the pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic has been a huge and terrible test for all countries, but nobody else is voluntarily steering towards a parallel economic shock like a No Deal Brexit. No sensible political leader could possibly go ahead with such an appalling double whammy. Businesses need all the help they can get to deal with the impact of the lockdown. Imposing a hard-Brexit shock on top of the most serious turn in the pandemic is worse than irresponsible.