Conservatives Global, May 7th, Nick Wood
Boris Johnson faces another date with destiny. In a few months, the poor man has already seen off Jeremy Corbyn, the EU and its massed ranks of domestic fifth columnists, and a brush with death at the hands of the mercurial coronavirus. By this weekend, he has to find a find a way of unlocking the lockdown. But then comes the most dangerous of months – June.
Little appreciated yet because the country has been understandably obsessed with social distancing, face masks and ventilators, next month is a major milestone along the road to Britain’s supposed final break with the EU at the close of the year. By the end of June, the British Government has to decide whether it will seek an extension to the so-called transition period (TP) in which it is legally outside the EU but has to follow all its rules and regulations – and pay its bills. All that, of course, without having any say over its decisions.
The Government, via ministers, Downing Street and its chief Brexit negotiator David Frost, has been adamant that there will be no extension of the TP beyond the end of this year, a stipulation set in statute that would need a change in the law in the next 7 weeks to overturn. With Parliament reduced to virtual gatherings, practicality alone points to only one outcome: that Britain’s 47-year troubled membership of the EU will be finally over at the end of 2020.
But the coronavirus pandemic has shifted the terms of the debate with Remainers, who seemed to have sunk without trace after the Conservatives stunning election victory in December, spotting a lifeline. They are pointing to opinion polls suggesting that a petrified British public strongly backs an extension of the TP because ministers first, indeed only priority, should be to curb the virus, which has cost nearly 30,000 UK lives and brought the economy to a shuddering halt. Covid-19 is being weaponised in the battle to come over an extension for as long as two years – which would amount to effective continuation of UK membership of the EU.
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