Brexit is done! Or, at least, Britain is no longer an EU Member State, has left the transition period, and an EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement has been signed. The Brexit process itself will continue, with future negotiations inevitable not just over services (and fish), but also over compliance and the “level playing field”. At the very least, however, hopefully we can start calling them “UK-EU talks” from now on instead of “Brexit talks”.
What do our readers think? Before the trade deal was inked, Olivier sent us a comment cautioning that the EU should “not accept [any] unfair competition from [the] UK”. He urged the EU not to make concessions in the talks, and worried that British firms might not be obliged to follow the same strict standards as EU firms. To what extent does the trade deal meet Olivier’s hopes?
To get a response, we put Olivier’s comment to Giles Merritt, journalist and commentator on EU affairs, and founder of the think-tank Friends of Europe. His latest book is “Slippery Slope: Europe’s Troubled Future”. How would he respond?
Well, I think that Michel Barnier deserves full marks for achieving, I would say, about 95% of his mandate from the 27 governments, and for doing so without any triumphalism, in fact, it was very quietly and smoothly done. But if you go through a checklist of what they wanted and what they were worried about in Brussels, you see that he’s managed to get the great majority of what he wanted.
Now, you have to say that he was always going to win. We who followed these things knew very well that when twenty-seven countries are against one, the twenty-seven countries have the whip hand. Theirs is the Single Market, and they’ve defended the Single Market. The icing on the cake, I would say, is that the Brexit process has been so divisive and bitter that it has persuaded any government that might have been thinking thoughts along the lines of “Are we happy with the way we deal with the rest of the EU?” – I think it’s dissuaded them from trying it on. So, if anything, European cohesion has been cemented.
For another perspective, we put the same comment to Jörg Wojahn, Head of the European Commission’s Representation in Germany. What would he say?
Dear Olivier, this was indeed our main concern as well. We wanted to, of course, keep the market open for the UK, and for us in the UK, but always in respect of our standards. We will not and we cannot allow the access of products from outside of the EU to the European market in violation of our standards. So, we made sure – as we make sure in all our trade agreements with countries – that all our standards have to be met, in particular food safety standards. These are things that we hold very dear and where there will be controls, of course.
Next up, Enric sent us a comment that seems to accept there may be short-term disruption due to Brexit. However, he thinks that, in the medium-term, the UK will eventually boast a healthier economy than the EU. What do the medium-term economic prospects look like under this deal for both the UK and the EU?
How would Giles Merritt, founder of Friends of Europe, respond?
My immediate reaction [to Enric’s comment] was: ‘What does he mean by the medium-term‘? If he means, as I would, something like twenty years, he may have a point. Because, in my opinion, the next 30 years to mid-century are going to be very difficult for Europe as a whole. Now, this has nothing to do with Brexit. It’s mainly to do with demographics; how many old people versus how many working-age people. And there (until the sort of Brexiteer, hardline Tory populist government of Boris Johnson took over) the British had a big advantage, in that they had a growing population that some demographers were forecasting to overtake Germany by about 2070-2075. But, anyway, the real point is that it has nothing to do with Brexit and a lot to do with demographics.
When it comes to Brexit, I don’t think there is any case to make for it being an economic advantage. Even the British treasury – the finance ministry of the British government – thinks there will be a 4% drop in GDP from where it should have been to where it will be over the next 5 years. Now, maybe 5 years is the short-term, but even then I find it very difficult to believe anybody could be making a cogent case [that Brexit will bring the UK economic prosperity].
The only place where Enric and I might be on the same wavelength is on financial services; we don’t know what Brussels will decide about access for the City of London to European financial markets. Now, in my view, it would be a mistake to cut off the City of London at a time when we’re all trying to climb out of the depths of the Covid depression. So, I think on financial services he may have a case. On normal trade in goods and on general economic performance? No way.
What would Jörg Wojahn, Head of the European Commission’s Representation in Germany, have to say to Enric?
Yeah, Enric, that’s a justified question. But we should keep in mind that, in the first place, Brexit is a lose-lose situation for both sides. There’s a lot of big talk on the island [of Great Britain] but, in fact, the one who will lose the most from their departure from our big common market is the United Kingdom. If there were any hopes from the United Kingdom to run ahead with some economic adventures, we have made sure in our agreement – by ensuring a level playing field – that there can at least be no unfair competition. So, if the UK is successful we will be very happy for them, but they cannot do this at the expense of the common market, they cannot do it by means of unfair competition, and we have built in a number of safeguards in our agreement to ensure that cannot happen.
What does the new Brexit deal mean for Europe? What do the medium-term economic prospects look like under the deal for both the UK and the EU? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!