Remainers have been dealt a bitter blow in their hopes of delaying Brexit by up to two years after being warned Boris Johnson will not back down from insisting a trade deal with the European Union must be signed this year.
In the four years since Britain voted by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the EU, groups of Remain ministers have been desperately trying to delay or even completely derail Britain’s departure from the bloc. Boris Johnson secured a slightly amended withdrawal agreement with Brussels last year, but pro-Remain ministers remained relatively confident after successful denying his predecessor Theresa May on three separate occasions from getting her Brexit deal voted through Parliament. However, the Conservative Party crushed the opposition in December’s general election, securing a huge 80-seat majority to enable the Prime Minister to push his deal through Westminster and deliver on his promise to “get Brexit done” on January 31.
In March, the focus then turned to the beginning of frantic trade talks with the EU, but these are already on the verge of collapse as the two sides trade crunching blows over each other’s negotiating strategy and the lack of progress being made.
Tensions have been heightened further with Mr Johnson and his chief Brexit negotiator David Frost insisting a trade deal must be signed before the end of the transition period on December 31, 2020 – a deadline they are refusing to extend.
Last month, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier wrote to the Westminster leaders of opposition parties including the SNP’s Ian Blackford to say Brussels is open to the idea of delaying the transition period for a further two years.
A group of Remain ministers, led by Liberal Democrats acting co-leader Sir Ed Davey, are also trying to squeeze a Bill through Parliament to push for an extension of up to 24 months.
Alistair Jones, Associate Professor in Politics and a University Teacher Fellow at De Montfort University, used a phrase made famous by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to emphasis the impossible task Remainers are faced with.
He told Express.co.uk: “The vast majority of UK citizens (Remainers and Brexiteers) accept the UK is leaving the EU. It is a done deal.
“There is a small minority of Remainers who see the COVID-19 outbreak as a last chance to stop Brexit. Their belief is that by delaying Brexit the government will realise the error made by the British people and reverse the decision. They are, however, a distinct minority.
“The vast majority accept Brexit is happening.They may not like the outcome, but they accept it.
“What is deemed unpalatable is the government’s headlong rush into a no-deal Brexit, and a refusal to give any form of consideration to an extension to the transition period.
“It is this ideological drive to leave by 31 December 2020, regardless of the relationship, that causes a great deal of concern.
“Boris Johnson has said repeatedly “there is no extension” to the transition period. It is enshrined in legislation.
“To change that situation would require either the repealing of part of the Brexit legislation, which would prove highly unpalatable to most Conservative MPs, or the introduction of some new legislation to provide the government with a degree of flexibility in ending the transition period.
“Johnson is terrified of the optics: the PM is not for turning, to paraphrase a former PM; you turn if you want to, from the same former PM.
“This combination of ideology and paranoia means a delay is exceedingly unlikely.”
Wyn Grant, a Political Scientist and Professor of Politics at the University of Warwick, warned Remainers forcing an extension to the transition period will in no way increase hope Brexit can somehow be reversed in their favour.
He told this website: “What one is talking about here is not the bulk of people who voted remain and accept the result, or at least want to move on, but hardcore Remainer activists. They are not a large slice of the population but many of them are influential.
“For them, Brexit was a fundamental economic and political mistake which needs to be halted and ideally reversed.
“Extending the transition period to establish a working relationship with the EU does not halt Brexit. The UK has already left the European institutions. The same financial obligations would not apply beyond the end of 2020.
“I don’t think they can halt Brexit, they might be able to delay the final completion of the process, but in practice that is going to take many years to complete.
“The EU will remain a market for UK goods and services which will need to broadly compliant with its regulations.”