July Bedford Independent Column: A national disaster is unfolding

Coronavirus has claimed nearly 650,000 jobs since March. Sectors that were already struggling, like retail and hospitality, have little resilience to take such a blow.

A national disaster is unfolding, with vacancies at an all-time low and more jobs lost every day. Although the Government schemes have saved jobs, a cliff edge is only months away.

Instead of saving jobs with targeted support for the hardest-hit sectors like retail, manufacturing, aviation and a flexible furlough to save jobs, the safety net will be gone and mass unemployment, the like we haven’t seen for decades, will grip the nation.

And it’s not the only cliff edge.

We are five months away from Brexit and we still do not know what the future holds for us.

It was not supposed to be like this. Remember the election campaign? The Prime Minister told us as often as possible that he had an “oven-ready deal”.

But the Prime Minister doesn’t like the deal he baked. He didn’t even turn the oven on!

Leaving the EU on 31 January was only one part of the deal. The other was a future relationship set out in the Political Declaration negotiated by Boris Johnson with “no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors”, that will safeguard “workers’ rights, consumer and environmental protection”, keep people safe with a “broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership” and to ensure the protection of the Good Friday Agreement through proper implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Commitments the Prime Minister made to a level playing field, to a non-competitive aspect is now something he seems baffled by.

Which is no doubt why after four rounds of negotiations, a summit between Boris Johnson and the Presidents of the European Commission, Council and Parliament, and two subsequent weeks of meetings between negotiators, there has been no significant progress.

The opportunity was there to ask for an extension to the transition period, yet the Prime Minister chose not to ask for one.

So now the Prime Minister pretends a no deal would be “a very good option”, when the reality is it would be a monumental failure of statesmanship and a disaster for the UK economy and people already staring down the barrel of a gun at a deep and dark recession.

The problem for Boris is that the truth of the difference between the Brexit he promised – voted for in good faith by millions – and the one being delivered is emerging.

We’ve been short-changed!

The Government’s recently published Brexit Border Plan has revealed that British companies trading with Europe, according to the Financial Times, will have to absorb a post-Brexit bureaucracy burden and fill in an extra 215million customs declarations at a cost of at least £7bn a year.

Far from frictionless trade, we will be getting at least 12 new customs sites, similar to the giant 27-acre site in Kent soon to be transformed into a customs clearance centre for 11,000 lorries a day.

The International Trade Secretary, and Brexit supporter, Liz Truss expressed serious concerns about preparedness at the border. Her leaked letter set out four areas of concern: that ports might not be ready and therefore not secure for preventing smuggling, that the Northern Ireland Protocol may not be ready, and UK plans could be challenged at the WTO – the very organisation whose rules we fall back on in the event of a no deal.

The Government finally confirmed there will be checks on trade between GB and Northern Ireland, but the Government are yet to publish plans in order for preparations to begin on this most sensitive border.

Research from the Institute for Directors found that only one in four businesses are ready for Brexit. How can they be when they still don’t know what they are planning for?

The UK is plunging headfirst towards a Brexit where it has no deal with the EU, no deal with the US, and ever deteriorating relations with the world’s largest manufacturing economy.

With just five months left – in which we are already facing the biggest hit on jobs and livelihoods in our lifetime as a result of covid-19 – the Government should be doing everything in its power to mitigate that damage, not to add to it.

The Government will not be forgiven if they can’t broker a good deal. That was their promise to the British people, and it is on that they will be judged.

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