The more the Brexit negotiations drag on, the longer the UK will remain subject to the EU's rules. Agreeing to continue to accept decisions of the EU's institutions, regulators and courts raises serious questions of democratic legitimacy, argues regular contributor John Baron MP

As worldwide efforts to counter the coronavirus outbreak continue, there are signs that things are beginning to get back to normal ? or at least a 'new normal', as we learn to live with this virus whilst going about our usual business. Lockdowns across Europe are unwinding at differing speeds, and while it will be a long time before life returns to pre-pandemic patterns, issues which were parked at the height of the coronavirus outbreak are raising their heads.

In the United Kingdom, recent events have shown that after a brief period of consensus, the usual run of party politics is back. Sir Keir Starmer has moved quickly to set his own imprint on to the Labour Party, overseeing the appointment of David Evans as General Secretary whilst Jeremy Corbyn, leader for nearly five years, failed even to be elected to Labour's delegation to the Council of Europe ? despite there being ten applicants for eight places. The Liberal Democrats, for their part, have announced there will be a leadership election this year after all.

The return of Parliament this week is a welcome development. The 'virtual Parliament' was an essential adaptation to extraordinary circumstances, and the Parliamentary staff who worked hard to set it up deserve thanks and congratulations in equal measure. However, it was a pale imitation of the real thing ? debates became a procession of set speeches rather than a genuine back-and-forth investigation of the issues, and scrutiny of the Government suffered.

The return of Parliament is also imperative because of the serious programme of legislation to be passed before the expiration of the Transition Period at the end of the year. The EU negotiations will come back to the fore this month, ahead of the crucial decision whether to extend the transition period or not, and will prove an important focus for Parliamentary time.

The British Government has quite rightly ruled out any extension ? it would take much of the urgency and impetus out of the talks, would mean the UK is subject to EU rules and institutions for considerably longer (whilst having no say over either) and may mean the UK is on the hook for whatever coronavirus bailout scheme the EU designs ? in addition to covering its own costs of the outbreak.

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The European Union would very much like an extension, largely for the inverse of the reasons above. The more the negotiations drag on, the longer the UK will remain subject to its rules and institutions, and it would be helpful if one of the world's largest economies contributed to any bailout mechanism. Michel Barnier's letter to opposition MPs, in which he floated the idea of a two-year extension to the transition period, shows the EU is still acting as if the Conservatives did not win a strong majority at last December's General Election.

Taking this point further, negotiations with the EU would make much better progress if the EU were to start treating the UK like any other independent country. Agreeing to accept decisions of the EU's institutions, regulators and courts would raise serious questions of democratic legitimacy, as these would trump the decisions of the elected government at Westminster, without even the fig-leaf of MEPs in the European Parliament.

The UK would not get very far if it demanded that the EU accept all the laws passed in Westminster, now and in the future, and that it be legally bound to abide by the unknown future decisions of British regulators and courts. Yet the inverse of this is what the EU is insisting the UK agrees to as the price of a trade deal. Indeed, the more the EU complains that Britain should not benefit from 'unfair competition', the more it would seem to be a good idea to do so.

Also coming back to the fore after a coronavirus hiatus is the fate of Hong Kong. After a bruising few years during which the city's freedoms and autonomy, guaranteed for 50 years from handover by the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, have become a thorn in the side of the Chinese authorities, Beijing is poised to pass a law which will ban any acts or activities which undermine China's authority. This presents obvious risks to Hong Kong's special status, as charges of separatism, subversion or terrorism are open to wide interpretation by the Chinese authorities.

So far it has been the United States which has led international condemnation, fitting in to the Trump administration's general animus against China. The US Secretary of State has declared to Congress that the security law will mean the end of Hong Kong's autonomy, significant because it risks rendering the city ineligible for the special trading terms it enjoys with the US. This would have a serious effect on the levels of investment into Hong Kong but also into China itself, as much US investment is channelled through the city.

The British Government is beginning to find its feet, jointly authoring a statement along with the US, Canada and Australia condemning the new security law. More productively, the Foreign Secretary has also announced that should China press on with the new law, Britain will offer a passport to British citizenship for BNO passport-holders.

This is the right course of action, recognising Britain's historic debt to Hongkongers and firing an important warning shot across Beijing's bows. Whilst the Chinese authorities will be relieved if pro-democracy activists leave Hong Kong, they will be less relaxed when wealth creators make the same journey. In an interesting echo of the end of my last column, if China wants to take its place in international affairs it must also live up to its responsibilities ? and that includes abiding by the treaty it freely signed with Britain in 1984.

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