And crucially, it is new. Eurosceptics never used to buy into itby Paul James Cardwell / September 7, 2017 / Leave a comment
“First of all, leaving the EU gives us back control of our trade policy, and gives us the opportunity to maximise returns from free trade.” These words were spoken by David Davis on 11th July last year.
Post-Brexit, getting trade deals with countries the world over has become the new mantra. The prime minister’s visit to Japan last week brought this into sharp focus. But getting new trade deals (and getting them quickly) seems to have become not just a consequence of Brexit but a reason for doing it. What is puzzling is where the desire for an “independent trade policy”—as Brexiteers call it—has come from so suddenly.
Under its Common Commercial Policy (CCP), the EU has exclusive competence to conclude trade deals: its member states do not have that power. This was in the treaty before the UK joined. And it is entirely consistent with having an EU single market. The idea that the UK will “win back” powers to conclude free trade agreements after Brexit is therefore correct, unless complicated by whatever transitional arrangements are put in place with the EU. So far, so good.
But just as the UK was in years past at the forefront of driving the single market agenda, successive UK governments have previously always been supportive of the CCP.
The predominant British view has traditionally been that the EU acting together carries a collective weight more than the UK or any other member state alone. This therefore amplified UK influence. The Balance of Competences Review in 2013 (remember that?) found no widespread evidence that change was required and concluded that operating outside the EU framework would not be hugely beneficial.
Looking back, we find this enthusiasm put explicitly to the public. For example, the Conservative 1992 manifesto prioritised the opportunity for the UK’s six-month EU presidency to push for EU-led trade and cooperation agreements with Eastern Europe. There was no obvious scepticism regarding the CCP from the party which is now pushing ahead with Brexit.