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Are you going to extend the transition, Mr Johnson?

by Hugo Dixon | 05.11.2019

The Prime Minister has shilly-shallied over whether he will delay our departure from the EU’s single market next year. In an attempt to clear up the confusion, Michael Gove today said “no”. But how much can we trust what either man says? We imagine a journalist grilling Boris Johnson.

Q: You’ve only agreed a divorce deal. There will be a “transition” until the end of next year, during which we will have full access to the EU’s single market. Will you extend the transition?

A: I see no reason whatsoever why we should do so.

Q: Is that a “no” or a “maybe”?

A: No. Absolutely.

Q: But doesn’t that mean we could crash out of the EU’s market next year? Ambitious trade deal like the ones the EU has done with Japan and Canada typically take six or seven years.

A: I’m the Incredible Hulk. Didn’t you see how I got a great new deal with the EU in only 90 days?

Q: It wasn’t great – it turned Northern Ireland into an EU colony. It wasn’t new – it copied what the EU had already offered Theresa May but which she rejected. And it wasn’t a full deal – it was only a “withdrawal agreement”.

A: I also renegotiated the political declaration. That charts the future shape of our trade deal with the EU.

Q: Do you know how long the economic partnership section of the political declaration is?

A: Pretty damn long.

Q. It’s 10 pages. And do you know how long the Canada EU trade deal is?

A: Uh. Umm.

Q: It’s 454 pages. You can’t seriously be saying you can get something similar nailed down by the end of next year.

A: I’ll do it at a blistering pace. The negotiations will be extremely simple because we start in a state of perfect regulatory alignment with the EU. We already have zero tariffs and zero quotas.

Q: So Nigel Farage is right then. You’ll sign up to the EU’s rules and regulations. The whole UK will become a vassal state.

A: Not at all. We’re taking back control of our laws.

Q: So you’re going to wriggle out of your promise to the EU to keep a “level playing field” and uphold high standards on “state aid, competition, social and employment standards, environment, climate change, and relevant tax matters”? (Section 77)

A: No, no, no, no. We’re going to have the highest standards of workers’ rights and environmental protection.

Q: So why did a leaked government document boast about how “UK negotiators successfully resisted the inclusion of all UK-wide [level playing field] rules” from your predecessor’s deal? 

A: That’s a pyramid of piffle.

Q: You’re speaking out of both corners of your mouth. You’re trying to persuade Brexiters like Farage that you’re not going to follow EU rules, while reassuring moderate Conservative and Labour voters that you are. Which is it, Mr Johnson?

A: Err, umm.

Q: Isn’t the truth that by refusing to extend the transition, you are opening a trap door to “no deal” at the end of next year?

A: Not at all.

Q: So are you willing to take “no deal” off the table?

A: Not at all. No deal is better than a bad deal.

Q: There you go again. You’re trying to have your cake and eat it – appealing to Farage’s voters by keeping no deal on the table and moderates by pretending it’s not. You can’t have it both ways.

A: Hmm.

Q: Let’s go back to the transition. If you were so determined never to ask for an extension, why did you keep open the possibility in the withdrawal agreement?

A: Err.

Q. Article 132 says the UK and EU may extend the “transition period for up to one or two years”.

A: Harrumph.

Q: It goes on to say that the UK “shall make a contribution to the Union budget” during the extension. Do you know that experts such as the Centre for European Reform expect the cost to be £15 billion a year net? That’s much more than we currently pay because we’d lose the “rebate” Margaret Thatcher negotiated.

A: There you go. Another reason we shouldn’t extend the transition.

Q: So if you’re not going to use the extension, why did you keep open the possibility in the withdrawal agreement?

A: You’ll just have to trust me. We won’t use it.

Q: Do or die?

A: Err. Umm.

Q: Prime Minister, why would anybody believe anything you say?

Edited by James Earley