Even a tailored agreement will damage Britain’s prospectsby Sam Lowe / February 19, 2018 / Leave a comment
The government’s “Road to Brexit” series of speeches has kicked off, with Boris Johnson and the Prime Minister making contributions so far. But as yet we are none the wiser. The fundamental Brexit trade-offs have not been addressed. This can’t go on forever. The cabinet and Theresa May are fast approaching an unavoidable fork in the road: Canada or Norway. Canada or Norway. Canada or Norway. The European Union’s messaging has been relentless. “Pick one, and pick one soon.”
Yet the choice should not literally be understood as being between Canada (which simply has a free trade deal with the EU, called CETA) and Norway (which is far more deeply integrated, being part of the European Economic Area). Any future EU-UK partnership will be bespoke. Indeed, Angel Merkel accepted as much last Friday. But it will be bespoke within the parameters determined by the balance of market access and obligations typified by the two examples given.
To be slightly facetious, any UK trade agreement with the EU will not look exactly like Canada’s because, well, CETA mentions Canada 954 times. A UK-EU agreement will likely not mention Canada once. It is equally unlikely that our agreement would look exactly like Norway’s, if only because neither the EU nor Norway would want us disrupting the EEA agreement, which functions perfectly nicely as it is thank you very much.
Canada and Norway are illustrative. But they are given as examples for a reason.
If the UK is intent on extricating itself from the EU’s regulatory and enforcement regimes in order to “take back control” of its own rule-making process, then that is fair enough. But it cannot expect to receive the same levels of frictionless market access for its goods and services as now; frictionless market access that has been made possible by the EU institutions and shared rules that have emerged, not in spite of them. So it will be a trade agreement that looks something like CETA, but not actually CETA. (I would imagine it will look more like the initial vision of the now mothballed US-EU agreement, TTIP, or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership to use its full name).
“The cabinet and Theresa May are fast approaching an unavoidable fork in the road”