The point of Brexit is to diverge and that will necessitate lengthy negotiationsby David Henig / November 19, 2019 / Leave a comment
The Conservatives’ election message is clear: in the event of their winning a majority on 12th December, we’ll be out of the EU by 31st January, and will have a new Free Trade Agreement by the end of the planned transition on 31st December 2020. Eleven months will be enough, because we start from complete alignment. Greg Hands, a Tory MP since 2005, tweeted that “As former trade minister, the UK-EU trade deal won’t be like any other in history—both parties will be discussing not what barriers to reduce, but whether to put any up.”
The prime minister has insisted there will be no extension of the transition, just as there was to be no extension of the Brexit date of 31stOctober. This for a trade deal that is unprecedented, where unprecedented normally takes longer. The EU will conclude a full Free Trade Agreement in less than a year, building on the precedent of the EU-Canada CETA deal which was provisionally applied in September 2017, talks having started in 2009.
Even at first sight this all seems unlikely: that an EU which we’ve been constantly told is protectionist and out to punish the UK for leaving, is the same organisation that will be able to complete an agreement with the UK in several years less than its last deal. It doesn’t help that incoming EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan has said this will be possible, though such initial optimism is not unusual when starting a trade deal. But there really is no reason why two countries negotiating a trade deal from a position of alignment will reach a conclusion any more quickly than two starting with a huge number of barriers.
An obvious place to start in explaining why current alignment is not necessarily a help is the different base for trade now and in the future. A founding principle of the EU was free movement of goods, services, capital and people for all member states. Though the meaning of these has been refined over time, any restrictions can in theory be challenged in the European Court of Justice.
By contrast, the starting point for trade with the EU for non-members is the World Trade Organisation principle of equal treatment between all, if…