The government is poorly prepared to negotiate deals after Brexitby Guy de Jonquières / December 6, 2019 / Leave a comment
Christmas is the season when miracles are supposed to happen. But the most extraordinary divine intervention will be needed if the hopes, dreams and promises about Britain’s trade future after Brexit being bandied about on the election campaign trail by Conservative politicians are to come true.
They say, for instance, that if re-elected they can wrap up a trade deal with the European Union within months after Brexit and that it will be easy because the UK starts with market regulations identical to those of the EU. Trade policy experts, however, are near-unanimous in dismissing such claims as false or wildly unrealistic.
There have been few more blistering indictments of the government’s approach than in Friday’s resignation letter by Alexandra Hall Hall, Britain’s Brexit envoy in Washington. It accused political leaders of using “misleading or disingenuous arguments” about Brexit and of failing to tell the public honestly of the challenges Brexit posed.
But there may be another, even more disconcerting, explanation for politicians’ muddled approach to trade policy: that they do not actually know what they are talking about. That is perhaps not surprising. The UK has little recent experience of doing trade deals: the last time it struck one was before it joined the Common Market in 1973, since when the European Commission has done all the negotiating on its behalf.
Instead of raising unrealistic expectations, politicians need to start confronting some basic realities about trade policy. If they do not do so now, the next government may have to learn its lessons the hard way, in trench warfare with formidable battle-hardened negotiators in Brussels, Washington and other capitals.
The first lesson is that all negotiations require compromises and trade-offs. That, it seems, is news to cabinet members. One senior Tory former minister says most do not yet grasp that the more Britain seeks to diverge from European Union laws and regulations after Brexit, the less access the EU will offer to its market.
That ought to be obvious, since the UK for many years led the drive to create those regulations. If it wants now to ditch them—one of the main reasons…