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  • Here we are, Robert.

  • The road to Brexit.

  • Are we nearly there?

  • Bong.

  • Bong.

  • Robert.

  • I can sense your frustration in the writing.

  • OK.

  • So here we are.

  • It's the end of January, 2020.

  • This whole thing started in June, 2016,

  • but it's a moot point whether we are, in fact, there.

  • So I think if we were actually drawing the road,

  • it would have sort of gone like that, and through there,

  • and around here, and dead end, and then

  • it would have gone over here.

  • But actually, I think we are.

  • I think we are at Brexit.

  • It is happening at the end of this week.

  • 31st of Jan.

  • Even the people who most aggressively campaign to stop

  • it accept it's happening.

  • It is happening.

  • Nothing can happen to stop it now.

  • So I've got a little surprise for you.

  • Here we are.

  • Here's one I made earlier.

  • Excellent.

  • Here we are.

  • So...

  • Bong.

  • On Brexit night, on Friday night, you

  • may have to do the bongs, because there will not

  • be any official Independence Day bongs from the Big Ben.

  • There is a party in Parliament Square, which

  • Nigel Farage and his Brexit party crowd

  • have organised, where I believe they have tape

  • recordings of Big Ben bonging.

  • My favourite aspect of this is that nobody really contemplated

  • the fact until quite late, that the UK is leaving the European

  • Union at midnight, but that's midnight Brussels time.

  • So in fact, we're leaving at 11.00pm.

  • And among other things, is the Graham Norton Show on BBC

  • is being postponed, so that we can all watch

  • the great moment of departure.

  • The interesting thing is that actually as the day has

  • approached, Boris Johnson has sort of taken pains

  • to almost play down any idea of triumphalism,

  • because he's now got this strange task of having

  • to lead a nation which was split down the middle on Brexit.

  • So he can't really afford to have bongs, parties, call

  • it Independence Day, as presumably the Daily Express

  • and Nigel Farage would like.

  • Well, it's going to be straight.

  • He's treading quite a fine line.

  • So there's going to be a countdown clock,

  • I believe on the door of Downing Street.

  • He's doing an address to the nation.

  • Government buildings are going to have lights on them

  • in red, white, and blue.

  • Red, white, and blue.

  • It's a red, white, and blue Brexit.

  • Exactly.

  • And then in Parliament Square, Nigel Farage and his crowd,

  • him, other people from the Brexit party,

  • and the sundry talk radio figures,

  • are all speaking about what a great day it is.

  • And as you said, Britain's Independence Day.

  • It is interesting that a number of the Conservative MPs who

  • have, not all of them, but a number who were very strong

  • advocates for Brexit, they're all

  • trying to take the same tone that you were just saying.

  • It's like, actually, look, we know,

  • we recognise this is a sad day for a lot of people.

  • We need to just go about this with a degree of humility,

  • which I think is a good thing, actually.

  • If they can stick to it, it's a good thing.

  • OK.

  • So one of the things that has happened as well,

  • is it not just that Brexit is definitely happening?

  • This place, parliament becomes much less exciting,

  • and, indeed, relevant than it has

  • been for the last few months, because

  • of Boris Johnson's majority.

  • As it regains his sovereignty.

  • Yeah.

  • Exactly.

  • So as he regains his sovereignty,

  • it's actually kind of sidelined.

  • So I'm sorry, Big Ben, we're going to put you over there.

  • Because, the story, as it develops, in fact,

  • the next significant moment is the end of this year, right?

  • Yeah.

  • And middle point of this year, end

  • of June, because here we are now, Brexit day,

  • but there is another journey to here

  • when a whole load of decisions will have to be made,

  • and then to here.

  • Yeah.

  • Just after Brexit day.

  • So it's very early February.

  • We get the first sight of negotiating

  • mandates for the European Commission, which

  • are being agreed now.

  • And we should see them first week of February.

  • We're also promised a speech by Boris Johnson - again,

  • first week of February - where he sets out

  • what his approach to these negotiations is going to be.

  • I'm told that the EU mandate is going to be very, very

  • detailed, and the Boris Johnson one

  • is going to be more thematic.

  • But he's sending his big EU negotiator

  • David Frost out to do battle.

  • And so we're going to get a first sense of where the battle

  • lines are going to be.

  • What are we calling this?

  • We're calling this the UK priorities, or...

  • Yeah, something like that.

  • Yeah.

  • These are the battle lines, which will

  • determine the rest of the year.

  • As you said, June is when the British government

  • has to ask for an extension of the transition period

  • beyond December, 2020 on the assumption

  • that it's not to get the deal done in time.

  • And nobody thinks that's going to happen.

  • Which is interesting, isn't it?

  • Because when this started to come up in the autumn

  • there was some chat about how, if you sort of got to here,

  • what happens if you get three-quarters of the way

  • through the year?

  • You're really making a lot of progress on the negotiations.

  • A deal is very definitely possible.

  • It's on the cards.

  • But it is going to take longer.

  • You're kind of stuffed, because back here you should

  • have asked for an extension.

  • What happens here?

  • Is there a realpolitik way in which

  • both sides, EU and the UK, start to say, well, you know what?

  • We need another couple of months.

  • But you're sort of screwed by this legal deadline.

  • Before the election, I don't know if you remember,

  • Boris Johnson was given to talking about Gatt

  • - was it Gatt 24?

  • I can't remember what number Gatt it was.

  • But we said that if you were close to securing a trade

  • agreement, the two sides could roll over

  • their existing arrangements.

  • So in theory, I suppose there's that.

  • But the truth is that the Conservative side

  • believes in the deadline.

  • It doesn't believe in paying more money to the European

  • Union.

  • In the period of transition, the UK

  • has to take and accept all of the rules from the European

  • Union, which no longer has any say.

  • So just to be absolutely clear what we're talking about,

  • so from Brexit day itself.

  • To the end of December, '20.

  • The end of this month, January to December,

  • we are in a period of transition.

  • So we're effectively out of the EU.

  • We are no longer a member of the European Union,

  • but we abide by the existing arrangements

  • while we negotiate our end state.

  • And that's what we still don't know.

  • And in return for those, I think life goes on as normal.

  • So the truth is, the morning after Brexit, for most people,

  • nothing will have changed.

  • Absolutely.

  • Absolutely.

  • But the Conservatives do not want

  • to go beyond that deadline.

  • It was possibly the price of the day of Nigel Farage pulling out

  • of the general election.

  • And so they've rather put themselves up against it

  • because time is on the European Union's

  • side in this negotiation.

  • And if the UK is frightened of falling over

  • the edge of another no-deal cliff,

  • then the European Union has a lot of advantages in this.

  • The interesting question, and it's very hard to know,

  • because at this stage everyone's just being tremendously gung

  • ho, and it's the early opening rounds,

  • is that - I've heard it from enough people

  • to think it's at least possibly true

  • - that the UK actually is prepared to go over the cliff

  • this time.

  • And one reason for that is that the moment you

  • say you're diverging on regulations,

  • and regulatory alignment, a lot of the issues like lorries

  • at Dover, and all of the friction in trade,

  • becomes a reality anyway.

  • And the government is committed to regulatory divergence.

  • So that seems to me the whole battleground.

  • There is a really horrible way in which there is

  • a kind of deja vu about this.

  • But we've got the whole of this year

  • before we get back to this threat,

  • this threat of a cliff edge, which we experienced twice.

  • It felt like so many more times last year in 2019.

  • Well, I still got the tins of tinned tomato

  • in my house's spare bedroom.

  • Exactly.

  • No, but exactly.

  • So the whole nation, and, indeed, the rest of the EU

  • was sort of poised - this feeling of danger

  • twice last year.

  • And we might end up back there, so it's not

  • quite the end of a road.

  • There is a sense of going back in a circle.

  • Yeah, absolutely.

  • I mean, it's absolutely...

  • I mean, if the UK was prepared to do the kind of Brexit

  • that Remainers wanted, which is very close in alignment.

  • Hopefully incredibly close to the European Union.

  • There is the easy part of this, the easier part,

  • which is an agreement to have zero tariffs and zero quotas,

  • which both sides fundamentally want.

  • That's the easier part of this game.

  • But the European Union looks like it's

  • going to hang very tough on the issue of what

  • it calls level playing field.

  • Which is not having the UK able to compete

  • against the EU by having much lower corporation tax,

  • by having all sorts of sweeties that it can offer to business

  • to attract business to the UK and away from the EU.

  • They want the UK to commit to that level playing field, which

  • would defeat any economic purpose of Brexit

  • for those who believe there is one.

  • And the UK is very resistant to this.

  • Of course, the chances of it diverging wildly

  • on the 1st of January, 2021 are very slim,

  • but it doesn't want to commit to what's

  • called dynamic alignment, where every time the EU changes

  • rules, the UK has to change.

  • So that is the bulk of the battleground...

  • that and fish are the bulk of the battleground.

  • I'm going to come on to fish.

  • Please do draw some fish, because this

  • is what I've been looking forward to all week.

  • This is the fish bomb.

  • That is a bomb, not a fish.

  • OK.

  • Look, he's got an eye.

  • Now it's a fish.

  • All right.

  • I'm going to draw a better fish.

  • That is a better fish.

  • There we are.

  • Oh, it's a shark.

  • I hear the scales falling from his eyes.

  • Should we say that?

  • Yes, OK.

  • It's got to have some fins, otherwise it's not a fish.

  • There we are.