Do not look at disputes between the two sides but within themby David Henig / November 17, 2020 / Leave a comment
Negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship are finally intensifying. In London it is reported that Michael Gove and Rishi Sunak, favouring a deal even at the cost of signing up to the EU’s conditions, are up against Boris Johnson and David Frost, who are comfortable without one and fearful of cries of betrayal from Brexit hardliners. In Brussels, there are discussions among EU member states about the extent to which the UK can be trusted to stick by a trade deal, or whether strict enforcement rules are required. In neither capital city, though, can it be said that a broad settled consensus exists as to how the future relationship should look.
In the more public negotiation, UK and EU teams continue working through the details of formal legal text for a free-trade deal, hoping to find some agreement on the issues that have bedevilled talks since day one. After many weeks of such talks, hopes are not high of an imminent breakthrough.
But the true barrier to a deal isn’t really issues like fishing or the level playing field; those are rather the symbols of genuinely deep uncertainty on both sides as to what the future relationship should look like. Without that clarity, and some degree of shared vision, any relationship is going to look shaky.
We focus on what is happening between the two parties when the discussion within them is what really matters for the outcome. The deal, after all, can only take place in the space between the red lines of the two parties, dictated by their respective visions. So what about when neither side is quite certain what it wants? On the EU side, there is no existing model which it thinks works for the UK. Neighbourhood policy is aimed at smaller and weaker countries. Deep integration is for potential future members (except for states in the European Economic Area, which reject full membership but still follow EU rules). Free-trade agreements are for distant countries, small and large.
There is an awkward compromise relationship being constructed for the UK, consisting of parts of all of these. It isn’t comfortable, not least as there is a fear of the UK undermining the single market by deregulating, hence the insistence on a level playing field. The fear is…