A reversion to WTO rules is one option—but there are precedents from history for a different approachby Paul Lever / September 6, 2017 / Leave a comment
In her pre-election, truculent approach to Brexit Theresa May’s much repeated mantra was that no deal was better than a bad deal. She was unable, or unwilling, to spell out what a bad deal (or for that matter a good deal) would look like. Neither did she explain what “no deal” would mean.
According to conventional wisdom Britain would, in the absence of a deal, leave the EU on 20th March 2019 without any special arrangements for citizens of other EU member states resident in the UK or for British citizens resident elsewhere in the EU; and Britain would from that day on cease paying any money into the EU budget or receiving any money from it. Britain’s commercial relations with the EU would operate on the basis of World Trade Organisation rules with tariffs on many manufactured goods (10 per cent on cars, 22 per cent on lorries) and little or no entitlement at all to trade in services or agriculture.
This is indeed one option if there is no agreement. But it is not the only one; and it is not the way the British government should proceed if the negotiations look like stalling. There are precedents from history for a different approach.
In the 1970s and 1980s, when the Cold War was at its height, the United States and the Soviet Union began to negotiate a number of arms control agreements with each other designed to provide predictability and stability in their strategic nuclear relationship. The Strategic Arms Limitation and Reduction Treaties were complex and detailed with intrusive inspection regimes—one of President Regan’s favourite arms control sayings was “Trust, but verify.”
But they weren’t always formally ratified. Negotiations on the second round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks began in 1972 and Presidents Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev signed the agreement in 1979. But within months the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and Carter withdrew the request to the Senate to ratify it.
But the two governments chose anyway to abide by its provisions. Both Carter and Reagan took the view that it was in the United States’ national interest to have a degree of political predictability about what the other…