The Prime Minister finally has enough MPs to ‘get Brexit done” but completing our exit from the EU will be easier said than done, says Ivor Gaber

I really didn’t want to make my first piece of the New Year about the ‘B’ word but when the editor says he wants something about how easy, or hard, it will be to complete Brexit this year …. I have to obey.

The answer is simple - easier said than done.

By the end of this month we will have legally left the EU, of that there is no doubt - that’s the easy bit done and dusted but then comes the harder part, because we then start trying to negotiate, not just our future trading relationship but all our other relationships as well - security, fishing, borders etc. etc.

Take just the trading relationship; the Government is saying that it wants a similar deal to that which Canada achieved last year. No problem there except that deal took seven years to negotiate. Johnson says there is no comparison because we are already aligned with the EU on the issues that they and Canada haggled over but he also says he wants to break with our close alignment and negotiate a brand-new deal.

Then, as ever, there’s the problem of Northern Ireland. Will we have to institute new checks on goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland? The Treasury, the EU, even our own Brexit Secretary says there will, but Johnson says there won’t. Who to believe? You pays your money and takes your choice.

And let’s not forget about fishing. On the face of it, simple – British territorial waters for British fishermen? Unfortunately, like the Northern Ireland issue, it ain’t that simple. It’s true that UK trawlers catch only 60 per cent of the fish in UK waters, but the majority of that catch is sent directly to Europe, easily done because of the frictionless trade that exists. But once trade becomes more restricted, how much of that catch will still be sold to Europe? We could be left with the ridiculous situation of British trawlers catching fish that they just can’t sell.

The Government, or more precisely Boris Johnson for reasons best known to himself, has enshrined in law that if the negotiations are not concluded by the end of the year then we will leave the EU without a deal. Since such a threat will undoubtedly harm the UK far more than the EU it’s equivalent to a man holding a gun to his own head and saying “ ..unless you give me everything I’m asking for I’m going to pull the trigger”.

If the negotiations are not completed by the end of the year – and because of EU procedures there is in fact only seven months’ negotiating time available - then, say the Leavers, we’ll revert to trading on World Trade Organization terms. Sounds easy-peazy but do any of those politicians uttering these words have the faintest idea of what they are talking about? WTO trading is based on its rule book, currently running to 30,000 pages. I wonder how many fervent Brexiteers in Parliament have actually read it? And I also wonder if any of them have ever pondered the fact that the full list of countries that rely solely on WTO trade rules runs to just one: Mauritania, since you ask.

I believe that just as Johnson said he would “die in a ditch” rather than extend last October’s Brexit negotiations, and then proceeded to extend it, so I believe he will be forced to extend the transition period beyond the end of this year.

And the transition negotiations with the EU are not the only Brexit headache on the horizon. During the referendum Leave campaigners made great play of the fact that after our departure we’d be brilliantly placed to negotiate a fantastic trade deal with the rest of the world, with the United States the icing on the cake, which brings us to our most recent problem – Donald Trump.

The unpredictable, some might say unhinged, US President prides himself as a deal-maker, indeed his main claim to fame before becoming a TV celeb was a book called The Art of the Deal. Does anybody here expect Trump to give the UK something other than the toughest of deals? “Ah, but what about the ‘special relationship’” I hear you say - a relationship so ‘special’ that prior to Trump ordering the assassination of Iran’s security boss he didn’t even bother to inform our government, despite putting at risk the hundreds of British troops currently stationed in Iraq.

So ‘Get Brexit Done’ was the very clever slogan that Johnson used to such great effect in the recent election campaign but - easier said than done.

Ivor Gaber is Professor of Political Journalism at the University of Sussex and a former Westminster political correspondent