“Once we have left the EU and have a new trade deal, then we will be friends again.” So said many a Brexiteer over the last five years.
That argument always struck this reporter as spectacularly naïve, almost as naïve as the notion that both sides would follow the principle of rational self-interest in the negotiations.
And so it has proved. The UK is out, but relations with – as Boris Johnson puts it – “our European friends” have never been more poisonous.
How could this be if the UK got what it voted for in 2016?
One problem is that the Trade and Cooperation Agreement is self-evidently not a good trade deal, particularly for the UK. Boris Johnson promised a deluxe model, instead, he has ended up with the dregs from the bargain bucket. Services are not covered and so the UK has lost a small chunk of its financial service sector to the likes of Amsterdam.
British businesses are slowly getting used to new paperwork and customs checks, which are imposing hefty new costs. UK exports to the EU have fallen substantially and, as the grace periods on customs checks expires, all goods will be subject to checks. Business lobby groups are warning that they face long-term additional costs.
That might be bearable if non-EU trade had increased. Alas, it has not. Exports of food and drink products to non-EU countries, for example, fell by 4% in January.
Johnson’s EU relations minister, David Frost, insists that cross-Channel trade flows have returned to normal. But then, as the man who negotiated the agreement, he would say that, wouldn’t he?
Because the trade pact is so substandard, the UK is already trying to ignore the bits that it doesn’t like, delaying the phase-in of customs checks and, says the European Commission, breaking the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol to prevent customs checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea.
The long-running battle over the Northern Ireland protocol, which Johnson only agreed to under duress, is back in the hands of lawyers, and that is before we get to the question of COVID-19 vaccine deliveries across the Channel, where both sides are threatening to block vaccine supplies to the other.
This can’t continue. Yet in the court of public opinion, these endless rows play well, particularly for Johnson. Blaming the EU over vaccine delivery and Northern Ireland gets him votes.
The European Parliament, meanwhile, has delayed its ratification of the trade agreement until the end of April. For the moment, there is little prospect of EU lawmakers deciding to veto it but you can be sure that many of them want to.
Theresa May’s mantra throughout her painful three-year premiership was that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” Johnson disagreed. However, if neither side is willing to give any ground, no deal is precisely where we will end up.
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Reporters Without Borders filed a complaint against Facebook for “deceptive commercial practices”, accusing the social media giant of not respecting its commitments to fight disinformation and moderate online hate, particularly targeting journalists.
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Look out for…
- EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen receive US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
- Day 2 of NATO foreign affairs ministers’ meeting in Brussels
- College of Commissioners will meet to discuss the EU strategy on the rights of the child as well as the action plan for the development of organic production
- European Parliament plenary session
Views are the author’s
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Josie Le Blond]