Biden has been vocal in voicing his opinion on Brexit and has stressed that the Irish border must remain open, previously stating that a US-UK trade deal must be contingent upon respect for the Good Friday Agreement. We spoke with former UKIP leader and founder and CEO of the British Political Action Conference, Henry Bolton, to find out if Biden's comments are an attempt to pressure Britain into a Brexit deal and what Boris Johnson needs to do as the end of the transition period approaches.
Sputnik: Joe Biden has been very vocal this week in voicing his opinion on Brexit. He's repeated his call for the border between Ireland and the UK to remain open. And he stressed the importance of protecting Northern Ireland's peace deal in the Brexit process. So do you think this is an attempt to put pressure on the UK to strike a deal with the EU?
Henry Bolton: I think it's pressure to an extent on both parties, both Brussels and London. And indeed, the Irish authorities on both sides of the border. The thing here is that, obviously, nobody ideally wants physical controls on the island of Ireland, between North and South. That's a problem for commerce and trade. It's a problem, potentially politically, and here's the thing that nobody is talking about – the European Union treaties and subordinate legislation.
So the legislation founding the framework of those treaties requires the European Union to place physical controls on its external borders. That is a treaty and legal obligation of the European Union, in their own internal law. Now, heading for three years ago, Theresa May, for some bizarre reason, accepted UK responsibility to find a solution to this problem. And since that moment, everybody has looked at the UK as having the job of finding a solution. The UK has had to give ground. However, there is absolutely no way that the United Kingdom can influence and change European legislation. So the only way around this really is for the UK to accept concurrence with all of the EU internal market requirements, if that makes some sense. Because that is the only way that the European Union legally can say this isn't really a normal external border. So the problem is, it rests in EU legislation. London can't address that, only Brussels can address that in the member states. And Joe Biden is right to say we don't want physical controls. But I worry that Joe Biden doesn't fully understand the source of the problem, much as Theresa May didn't.
Sputnik: This week, Andrew Bailey, the Bank of England Governor, has said that the implications of a no-deal Brexit could be more costly than COVID-19. He said it would cause disruption to cross border trade, and possibly damage goodwill between London and Brussels. Is this more project fear stuff? What do you make of these comments?
Henry Bolton: He's hitting on two things, economic cost, and political cost. The economic cost first. Of course, any disruption, whether it's caused by COVID or disruption of the border, is going to have an economic cost. Furthermore, there should be better controls, more controls, more facilities at our borders. Now that costs money, of course, to put in place. Now, my fear there is that for the last four years, and remember that actually, since the referendum, roughly the same amount of time has passed as the entire length of World War One, and yet we are still not ready for Brexit at the end of the year. I've always said that the biggest risk of Brexit is not leaving the European Union, it's in having a government that's too negligent or incompetent to plan and prepare properly. And that's what we've seen. The preparations are not complete and they're not that complicated. So there will be a financial cost because there will be some disruptions due to incompetence and lack of planning.
The political risk of the tensions with Brussels, I think, will be that there is already political damage there. There is a breakdown to an extent of trust between the president of the European Commission and Downing Street. But, you know, both sides are pragmatists. We have to be. So that will be a minor glitch, once we finally sort out the arrangements with the European Union going forward, whether there's a deal or whether there's not there will be discussion, there will be arrangements. It's just how long they take. Once that's done, then I think the relationship will start to find a new level and a new balance and pragmatism will win the day. It's not going to cause damage politically.
Sputnik: As we head towards January 1st, where do you think Boris has gone wrong? And what should he be doing right?
Henry Bolton: That's a massive question. I think the first thing is, we now have a government, whether it's the ideal solution and approach or not is a moot point, but we've got a government that now has got a little bit of a road map going forward with relation to COVID. The framework for Christmas and lockdowns and the tier system has been sort of worked out, laid down. We've got various vaccines on the horizon. So now Boris needs to pay attention to something that he should have been paying more attention to earlier, which is Brexit. I think there are some fundamental strategic things that need to be dealt with. On the top of his in-tray should be the development of a national integrated border management strategy for the UK linking together and combining the efforts of all of the agencies at all our land and sea. Land, being railway, sea and air borders, at airports, and so on and ports, linking them together and combining efforts, driving efforts towards one set of agreed goals.
It's remarkable that there is no national strategy for our borders. And that includes trade, customs, fighting organised crime, terrorism, and immigration. And it's all absolutely fragmented at the moment. We will have a serious problem going forward if that's not dealt with. The other thing is that our economy must be fighting fit going into the future. Far too many people, including some very, very senior leading Brexiteers, have basically had the attitude [of] get the referendum done, then win the referendum or then win an EU election and then, you know, ultimately, the 31st December this year, the end of the transition period is job done. The job isn't done then, that just simply enables the UK to determine its own future in all sorts of areas, both domestic policy and international trade, foreign affairs policy. And so far, there has been no projection of vision as to what this nation wants to be beyond that. That's where the real leadership comes in. That's where Boris Johnson should be asserting himself as a national and international statesman. He should be laying down a vision for this nation going forward beyond the end of this year and the end of the transition period. What is it we aspire to be as a nation? And how are we going to build this nation as a confident, optimistic, prosperous and secure nation for everybody at all levels of society? That is something that is absolutely crucial for the prime minister. I'm frankly incredibly disappointed in leading Brexiteers and politicians for having absolutely failed to address those questions. So that's what should be at the top of his pile.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.