The Prime Minister has achieved the impossible
Like many a tragic politico, I have spent much of the bank holiday weekend trying to absorb the emerging details of the Anglo-European trade deal, signed just hours after my previous blog, predicting that a deal would not be agreed. That’ll teach me!
I jest somewhat. I did not strictly predict that there would not be a deal but I made the point that it was looking increasingly unlikely, given the seemingly intractable differences between us and the European Union, but that we had nothing to fear from a No Deal Brexit – though it would undoubtedly be better to leave with one. What the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, achieved was, ultimately, little short of a ‘Christmas miracle’.
After months of heckling about the alleged disappearance of the ‘oven-ready deal’, as Remainers willfully conflated the trade deal with the Withdrawal Agreement that Boris had already got signed, sealed and delivered (leading to our formally leaving the EU back in January), the PM has once again achieved the thing his detractors confidently pronounced was ‘impossible’.
We were told, repeatedly, that it was impossible to do a trade deal with the EU in the time available and that we could not ‘have our cake and eat it’. Not only has the PM and our chief negotiator, Lord Frost, done just that, they have delivered a deal that, by my reading, delivers on all the key aspirations of the Vote Leave campaign in 2016 and all that was promised by the Conservative Party at the 2019 General Election, allowing us to take back control of our money, borders, law, territorial waters and trade policy, but is also the first ever free trade agreement based on zero tariffs and zero quotas. This is fantastic news for families and businesses in Billericay East and across the whole of the United Kingdom. It is also the biggest bilateral trade deal signed by either party, covering trade worth £668 billion.
As I said in my previous blog, my red line was Brussels’ attempts to keep us locked into EU regulation, enforced by the European Court of Justice. This deal guarantees that we are no longer bound by EU rules and there is no role for the ECJ. It has been poured over by the Brexit Spartans in the European Research Group of Tory backbenchers, and their ‘star chamber’ of Brexiteer lawyers, and they are advising their members to support the deal. Even Brexit headbanger Nigel Farage has hailed it a success. It does, finally, feel as though this issue has been put to bed and we can move forward as a country. This means that from 1st January 2021, the dream of my lifetime will come true – the UK will have full political and economic independence. I could not be happier or more proud to be British, and a Conservative.
This is another huge personal achievement for Boris Johnson. Those who cast their minds back to the Conservative leadership election in 2019 will recall that, whilst I backed Boris, I was not by any means a completely uncritical fan of his but I was convinced that he was the man to get this done. Indeed, notwithstanding the doughty efforts of Lord Frost, the decisive factor does seem to have been the personal intervention of the PM – almost at the eleventh hour – and the personal rapport he was able to build with Ursula von der Leyen (no mean feat considering her father, the late Ernst Albrecht, was one of the original EU bureaucrats).
As I have said before, when the history of all this comes to be written and, better still, dramatised on Netflix, it will make for fascinating reading and probably a cracking bit of telly. The episode on the ‘Christmas truce’ hammered out over cold pizza and Zoom between Mr Johnson in Downing Street and Frau von der Leyen in Le Berlaymont will doubtless be particularly gripping.
By a strange coincidence, I recently posted on my Twitter feed my Top Six Conservative Leaders of all time (with the late Baroness Thatcher occupying the top spot, naturally). Initially, I had in sixth place the late Earl of Stockton (better known to history as Harold Macmillan). With this deal, in my estimation, Boris has displaced him. I now rank Lord Stockton at No. 7 in my personal pantheon of Tory heroes, and Boris edges him out at sixth place, just behind Sir Winston Churchill. To my mind, this trade deal is a personal and political triumph for Boris easily akin to anything Sir Winston achieved at Yalta and probably more analogous to the Earl of Beaconsfield (Benjamin Disraeli) and the Marquess of Salisbury at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Lord Frost joins the ranks of the great diplomatists such as Prince Metternich, Prince de Talleyrand, Viscount Castlereagh, or Prince Otto von Bismarck.
That sounds like the most preposterous hyperbole – and it is entirely possible that I am a little overcome with the sheer relief of where we are – but, as I say, I think we shall have to wait for the history of all this to be written to truly appreciate the sheer scale of the PM’s achievement here. Much credit also belongs to Michael Gove, the innocuously titled Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has done more than perhaps any other minister to help secure a deal. Between them, they have achieved a solution to a problem that has bedeviled British politics for the best part of four decades. A solution outfoxed Tony Blair, David Cameron and Theresa May. In the midst of a terrible global pandemic, draining the political capital he amassed with his General Election victory, which saw the PM himself hospitalised, and despite the loss of Dominic Cummings, the caprice of President Trump, and an unexpectedly unified EU, Boris has delivered on his promises. Despite all the platitudes of the Left, it took a Tory Old Etonian to finally listen to the voice of the British people and carry out their instructions delivered in the referendum result.
He has got Brexit done.
Now, just sit back and watch while all those people told you that we must avoid a ‘No Deal Brexit’ at all costs turn up at the House of Commons tomorrow and vote against the deal. Work that one out.