However, Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute for Economic Affairs, urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to stick to his guns in the face of the ongoing crisis, warning Brussels will pounce on any sign of weakness to delay the process. With more than two million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and lockdown measures in force across the continent, there have been calls for the transition period after which the UK will finally have left the bloc – currently set to end on December 31 – to be extended. However, Mr Littlewood told Express.co.uk doubted any further delay would happen, citing two reasons why he was optimistic a deal would be wrapped up.
He said: “The first reason is attention is elsewhere and the world economy has taken an enormous hit.
“So anyone playing silly fools about some sort of technical piece of regulation that they want to argue about or lobby about and gum up the whole system is going to be severely testing the patience of the EU nation-states as well as the Brits.
“If times were rosy at the moment and the economy was booming, then one particular sector sort of frowning and saying ‘we can’t possibly put up with any difference in regulations on this or that’ would perhaps get a reasonable hearing and clog up the system.
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“But I think the political forces both at the nation-state level of the 27 and of the UK are going to have very little patience with anyone who is arguing on a relatively trivial point of detail that would potentially redirect it.
“So I think that because of the backdrop of the coronavirus, the pressure is on getting this done rather than stringing this out because there is a complaint here or this industry there or that country somewhere else has got a particular problem with this element of the deal, I think will fall largely on deaf ears on both sides of the English Channel.
“It would be considered unbelievably reckless.”
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The second reason, which he said was largely specific to the UK, centred on the need for the Government to make use of what he called “some dramatic policy tools” to help the nation bounce back in the wake of the damage the coronavirus crisis was already causing to the economy.
He added: “Previously it was a sort of constitutional concept about what sort of things might we do if we were no longer shackled to the European Union.
“But now that can be genuinely meaningful. We had already relaxed some EU regulations around things like how many hours can lorry drivers drive.
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“I think there could be a package of recovery from coronavirus and you want the people in charge of that to have every tool at their disposal.
“If we were to extend our membership of the EU or remain in a transition period we would not have all the tools at our disposal, we would still be bound by EU rules and potentially if there was some spat between the US and the EU, we would potentially be caught in the crossfire because we would still be caught in the EU area.”
Nevertheless Mr Littlewood said the UK Government needed to remain resolute.
He said: “If the British Government started to flake on this and say ‘maybe we should stay in for another two years, we’ve got enough on our plates’, I think the EU would probably pounce on that and warmly embrace it.
“But if the British Government was firmly of the view that we really are sticking to the final date of exit at the end of the year, then that would focus minds.
“I think it’s important that the British Government remains adamant on the point because wherever there is a prospect of delay, it will be seized upon by those who don’t actually want Brexit to happen.
“To be honest I don’t think it is going to be any easier next year – I think it would be harder if we actually delay it.
“If we delay our final exit from the EU when we are back in normal circumstances and we bounce back from the coronavirus, I actually think it will be harder to get out.
“Because people have got to get things done fast in the context of a crisis, in many ways it is the best way of getting Brexit over the line.
“Things are being fast-tracked during this pandemic, not slow-tracked.”
“Let’s put Brexit in the inbox of things that need to be fast-tracked.”
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