Just over a month after the United Kingdom officially left the European Union and entered an 11-month transition period, the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic. The Brexit talks took a backseat whilst the government focused on fighting the pandemic.
Now, as the final deadline for a Brexit deal approaches and cases continue to rise across the country, the prospect of a no-deal Brexit seems real once again. After the EU summit in Brussels on the 15th of October, Boris Johnson warned that the UK should prepare for this scenario since the EU allegedly failed to offer an acceptable trade deal like the one it maintains with Canada.
However, many believe the delays and missed deadlines are only political posturings by the Prime Minister and his Chief Adviser Dominic Cummings. Commentators claim that a ‘smokescreen’ has been created to distract the public from the criticism levelled at the government’s mishandling of the pandemic and national lockdown.
Josh Garside, a first-year LLB Law student, has told The Mancunion, “I think a no-deal Brexit was always Boris’s goal, regardless of the ‘oven-baked deal’ he had back in December.”
In September, the announcement that Boris Johnson plans to break international law, albeit in a “very limited and specific way”, by rewriting the withdrawal agreement’s provisions concerning Northern Ireland has only made people even more sceptical of a positive outcome. Still, pessimism prevails, as many believe the UK would have left without a deal months ago if that had been the initial aim.
Even so, neither side wants to bear the blame for leaving the negotiating table. Talks resumed on the 22nd of October, with diplomats meeting daily to discuss potential additions to the deal. This was decided upon shortly after the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michael Barnier announced a willingness to compromise with the UK.
Deal or no deal, opponents of Brexit have argued that it will have a devastating impact on businesses throughout the UK, especially after being hit hard by the recession caused by the pandemic. Greater Manchester, and the North of England as a whole, rely on trade with the EU more strongly than other parts of the country do, as 58 per cent of goods exports from Greater Manchester are accounted for by the EU.
If no deal is reached by the deadline, the UK automatically drops out of the common market, the EU ideal that allows for freedom of goods, services, and people across all member states borders. According to a recent government analysis, a no-deal Brexit could cause a 12 per cent fall in the GDP of the North West of England over the next 15 years, compared to a fall of 8 per cent if a deal is reached.
The Brexit deadline also adds to the stress of university students, who are already facing increased stress and a feeling of uncertainty as cases continue to rise in Greater Manchester. The tier 3 lockdown announced in October has prompted many students to move back home and study remotely or even drop out. For EU and international students, the situation appears even more dire as Brexit may mean that students who have chosen to study from home could find it difficult to come to the UK after the December 31st deadline.
With negotiations still ongoing at the time of writing, it remains to be seen what, if any, type of deal the government will come to with the EU. However, almost a year on from the election which gave the Conservative Party a clear mandate to move forward with the Brexit process, it is clear that there is no end in sight for Brexit and we may be still discussing it for the foreseeable future even after the Covid-19 pandemic.