By MARCUS STEAD
Brexit has been on the back burner over the last four months as Britain and the world’s attention was focused on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. But Brexit will return to the limelight next week. Here’s what to expect:
It does appear as though we’re on the track to a ‘No Deal’. The end of June is the last possible date by which an extension to the December 31st deadline can be agreed, and the UK Government has made it clear that they’re not going to apply for one, and the EU appears to have accepted that as fact, so where does that leave us?
Next Monday (22 June), Boris Johnson and and the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are expected to announce a timetable of intensified negotiations this summer, including some face-to-face meetings to try and break the deadlock.
And this is a case of competing visions: The EU wants a comprehensive deal covering all areas, whereas the UK wants a sector by sector deal on the various components. That’s a fundamental difference in what the starting point of negotiations should be, and it does look as though there’s not much appetite for the UK’s preferred approach at EU level.
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, the December 31 deadline was already incredibly tight. Once it’s been agreed, it will require ratification from 38 different legislative bodies across the EU, which isn’t an easy task by any means.
It’s very unlikely indeed that there’ll be a deal in place before the autumn. Nobody seriously expects it. The EU insists the 31 October is the latest date a deal can be reached if it is to be ratified by December 31st. Meeting that October deadline is also going to be a tough ask.
So, apart from the competing visions as to whether we have a catch-all deal, or a sector-by-sector deal, what are the main sticking points?
The fishing industry, which actually makes up only 0.1% of GDP in the UK, is a big sticking point. The UK’s fishing industry has been utterly decimated in the 47 years since Edward Heath signed away control of Britain’s fishing waters to Brussels.
The EU coastal nations have a dream of keeping the same quotas they had to fish in UK waters as they had when the UK was an EU member. Whereas for the UK, as small as the fishing industry now is, there’s a lot of emotion attached to the issue, and it’s a case of the EU respecting the UK’s post-Brexit sovereignty. Is there a compromise to be found there? I don’t know. Is there even the appetite to compromise?
The other is on EU competition rules. The EU fears that the UK will create a low-regulation society in respect of labour and environmental standards. The EU wants the UK to mirror its evolving state aid, labour and environmental standards forevermore.
Is there a way through this? Well, a possible compromise is that the UK will agree not to lower labour and environmental laws below the current standards, BUT the catch there is that it limits the UK’s flexibility, and that might well have consequences in forming trade deals with the wider world as well as in attracting inward investment.
A ‘No Deal’ is a very real possibility. I’m not one of these people that is predicting the apocalypse if we end up in that situation, but I’m certainly not saying it would be plain sailing by any means. What concerns me is that MPs, even advisers who are flippant about a ‘no deal’ don’t seem to understand how the EU works.
In ‘no deal’ scenario, there are so many things that happen in this country that would have no legal basis, for example; most of the world’s best Formula One teams are based near Silverstone and the agreement that allows racing cars to get in and out of the country around 20 times per season would not be in place ,and there are many other examples like this.
The other side to the coin is that I cannot think of a single item of food or drink that couldn’t be sourced from elsewhere in the world if we had to, now that would mean in the short term that there could be disruption on the supermarket shelves as supply chains are re-balanced, but I don’t believe the apocalypse scenario at all.
We would be looking at short-term disruption and a significant degree of inconvenience? Yes? Would it be the end of the world? No. Would everything eventually be sorted out? Yes
Something that’s also entirely possible is that come the latter part of the year, the EU and the UK would find a way of fudging an extension, we’d get what is in reality an extension, but they won’t call it that, they’ll put a different label on it to save face.
The clock is ticking!