This Brexit deal is the end of the beginning by Professor Robert Tombs for UnHerd 25.12.20

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

Professor Robert Tombs is a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge, and the author of The English and Their History. In his article he makes these comments:

This is not the end, but perhaps the end of the beginning. Professor Pangloss might argue that through a chaotic process of political Darwinism we have arrived at the necessary (and, therefore, best possible) outcome . Think back across the aeons to 2016. Few people had any idea what Brexit ought to mean. ‘Hard’ Brexiteers thought of a Norway option, or rejoining EFTA or the European Economic Area. Mrs May and her advisors — wise (or so one would have thought) from years of negotiations in Brussels — imagined some “bespoke” deal, “ambitious” and wide ranging. Some Brexiteers predicted an easy negotiation: to reach a free trade agreement with people with whom we already had free trade.

How simple minded we were to think that the people who ran the EU would simply accept the UK’s decision, and pragmatically work out the most mutually beneficial future relationship. That is not how the EU operates, as we have seen most recently in Greece and Italy. Challenges to Mr Verhofstadt’s mighty empire have to be defeated, or the whole structure might begin to unravel. The EU were encouraged to think that they could repeat in Britain what they had succeeded with in Greece and Italy (not to mention Ireland and Denmark) by the tireless campaigning of Remain to try to undo the referendum — a strategy now condemned by Lord Mandelson for failing in its stated aim, but which succeeded brilliantly from the EU’s point of view in undermining the British government’s position throughout. The EU and the Remainers managed to set the terms of the debate: it was all about the UK’s “access” to the EU market, ignoring the need of key EU countries for “access” to the UK’s market (the most valuable in the world both for Germany and France), and of course to our fisheries.

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Since uploading this article, the so-called Star Chamber of legal advisers to the European Research Group of Conservative Parliamentarians, which includes Lawyers for Britain Chairman Martin Howe QC, has now produced its verdict on the deal: ERG Legal Advisory Committee Opinion on EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement

This highly condensed opinion deals only with the central question of whether the deal preserves the UK’s legal and practical sovereignty, and not the wider merits and demerits of the deal. Lawyers for Britain are undertaking further work on different aspects of the Agreement, and importantly on regaining the UK’s sovereignty from the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol, which remain in force alongside this new deal. That remains unfinished business.

On the 1st January 2021, Professor Tombs wrote a further article but this time for the Telegraph entitled:

"We must now fulfil the promise of Brexit to galvanise Britain and banish declinism.The route to national reconciliation lies in making the most of this glorious opportunity"

He begins his article with these words:

What a contrast January 1 this year was with January 31 last year, the day we officially left the European Union but remained practically inside it. Then, banners waved, megaphones blared, and the Brexit struggle continued. The contrast is not due to lockdown alone. This year, there seems to be relief that the battle is over. Though there might in theory have been economic and legal advantages in no deal, the political benefits of an agreement are huge. As the debate in the House of Commons showed, if there are still many who regret Brexit, there is now no significant political force working to reverse it.

Though there are a few prominent anti-Brexiteers who hope one day to rejoin the EU, this requires a remarkable faith in miracles. It would be miraculous if the EU could solve its internal problems – financial, political and social – to a degree that would make rejoining feasible. It is divided between the more prosperous north and the economically blighted south – a gulf created and perpetuated by the euro system itself. It is now also divided between a liberal west and a conservative east. Without Britain, it has to decide how to go forward.

In theory it could rush ahead to further integration, as President Macron wants. Or its divisions could become wider. In either case, it would be less attractive to any but the most millenarian Rejoiner in Britain. The only thing that could make rejoining even conceivable would be an economic catastrophe in the UK. But reputable economic think tanks are now predicting post-Brexit success. If disaster does come, it is more likely to be in the Eurozone.

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