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15 December 2016

Demand for a transitional deal is on the rise among the political elites.

The latest trend in Remainer weasel words is the call for a ‘transitional arrangement’ with the European Union to stretch out the process of reclaiming national sovereignty, claiming that the standard two year negotiating window offered by Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is insufficient to strike an effective deal and hoping they can fool the British people into accepting long-term single market membership.

Remainer bargaining

The pretence for this arrangement is wafer thin, and barely stands up to scrutiny. Sir Ivan Rogers, Britain’s ambassador to the EU, has speculated that a trade deal between Britain and the EU could take ten years to strike. Among Rogers’ achievements is helming David Cameron’s meaningless and fruitless cosmetic renegotiation with the European Union, so he is of course an expert at extracting absolutely nothing from European leaders while appearing to do work.

Such an opinion appears to be a by-product of bureaucratic foot-dragging. Businessman John Mills believes the two year Article 50 window permits more than enough time to produce a successful Brexit deal, blasting suggestions from the Chancellor and others for wishing to create ‘an unnecessarily long timetable’ and highlighting the speed with which we adjusted our trade relationships with the rest of the world upon joining the Common Market in the first place. Eliminating the prospect of a drawn-out Brexit, such as that promoted by Hammond, will limit uncertainty and focus the minds of negotiators. We should crack on and strike an effective and lasting deal as quickly as possible.

Besides, European Commission documents have suggested that the EU itself expects to strike a deal with the UK very quickly – much more quickly, for example, than it did with Canada. The asymmetry of expectation is less a consequence of the real situation, and more a result of wish-thinking on the part of British Europhiles.

Opposition to single market membership

Unfortunately for Remainers, membership of the single market is incredibly unpopular. Many of the arguments that compelled people to vote to leave the European Union in June were premised on leaving the single market – taking back control of our borders by ending the free movement of people, taking back control of our money by ending budget contributions, and ending the supremacy of foreign-made laws by pulling out of arrangements that force us to adopt them.

Even a number of scientific opinion polls – which have famously underestimate support for populist causes like Brexit and Donald Trump – have demonstrated a public preference for immigration control over membership of the faltering single market. Lord Ashcroft’s polling in the wake of Brexit showed that 52% of voters backed controls over immigration over enhanced single market access, while only 28% preferred the reverse. This included pluralities of all major party supporters except the Lib Dems and the Greens – including Labour and SNP voters. That’s a consensus!

A cunning tactic

It seems clear to many Brexiteers that the so-called transitional deal is a ploy for ongoing membership of the single market, with former UKIP leader and Brexit icon Nigel Farage exposing the suggestion as ‘backsliding’ and an attempt to ‘delay’ Brexit.

Delaying Brexit by a significant amount of time would of course allow Remainers to continue campaigning for the establishment of permanently closer ties to the EU in general elections. Under current Article 50 terms, Brexit will have been executed by May 2020 – the date of the next general election under the Fixed Term Parliament Act. Under the current Remainer plot, we will remain in the European Union in all but name by this point under the pretence of a ‘transitional arrangement’, giving Remainers like the Liberal Democrats a chance to win significant parliamentary representation with a minority of the public vote and a major opportunity to derail Brexit for good.

But even major Euro federalists oppose the plot. Chief Brexit negotiator for the European parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, has said that any transitional deal must have a strict time limit – merely delaying our inevitable departure from the alleged security of continued full membership of the crumbling European single market. Let’s stop fooling around and get on with it: a quick, clean Brexit that allows businesses to plan for the future is the best deal for all concerned.