The press agency EU EPA reported on 16 April:
Boris Johnson’s government on Thursday doubled-down on its threat to walk away from the EU Single Market this year if a deal on a successor trade pact cannot be reached. It hinted that trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms would give the UK more ‘flexibility’ to manage the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. [EPA-EFE/ANDY RAIN]
In a country severely battered by the worst pandemic in a hundred years we wake up to find that the UK Government is wishing that EU trade negotiations might fail so that we might enjoy the benefits of the ‘flexibility’ brought by WTO trade terms on 1st January 2021. It is a far cry from the Brexit promises made during the Referendum that trade deals would be easy, where no one would lose out and indeed we would gain that notorious £350m a week for the NHS that a slim majority voted for.
Now that we are out of the EU Stephen Stacey asks “what do we want from an agreement with the EU?”
We want an agreement that is comprehensive. Sectoral agreements, negotiated separately and with their own dispute settlement mechanisms, will not do justice to the high level of ambition that both parties have.
We want an agreement that maintains and stimulates trade between the EU and the UK, recognising its critical importance to both parties. And not only trade: whatever else changes, the UK remains geographically close to the continent of Europe. We want an agreement that recognises the affinities that exist today and allows them to develop in the future.
We want an agreement that takes down regulatory barriers, harmonising or aligning them where they cannot be removed and providing for mutual recognition with a focus on impact or outcome, facilitating not complicating trade.
We want an agreement that strengthens joint effort to resolve common challenges. Given today’s public health crisis, this is essential. Even after the current intensity of COVID-19, we will need to respect the ties that bind.
In particular we seek:
- To maintain the freedom to move between the countries of the EU and to reside, work, and study in them, reciprocating that freedom on equal terms with EU citizens
- To ensure frictionless trade with no tariffs and no quotas in goods, services, transport, intellectual property, and telecommunications
- To participate equitably in European programmes designed to improve the quality of life within Europe and outside it by means of joint effort in (for example) public health, research, and education
- To retain standards preserving the environment in which we live and work, retaining the right independently to enhance them
- To endorse the EU’s existing labour protections, committing to replicating EU efforts to improve them
- To recognise the need for commitments to be legally enforceable not merely sector by sector but horizontally across the shared interests of the two contracting parties.
We recognise that COVID-19 has been a game-changer. First: it has hurled the EU and the UK into the deepest economic recession in centuries. Recovery from it requires barriers to be removed not erected. And second: it has fractured the negotiating model the parties had agreed to use.
Face-to-face negotiation is simply not possible. If the three virtual negotiating sessions take place as planned, there will have been only four sessions since the start of the work programme in March. The joint committee meeting at the end of June needs to confirm the content of a draft agreement, which then has to be considered by the European institutions, the EU27, and the UK and approved by the end-of-year deadline.
Even if face-to-face negotiation had been feasible, the comprehensive agreement wanted by both parties could not have been achieved in the time allowed.
The best that might be managed is an incomplete set of sectoral agreements. This would meet the needs of neither party. We need an extension to the transition period so that the work required can be undertaken and completed properly. The length of that extension must be determined by the speed with which negotiators make progress.
A deadline imposed without regard for the nature of the negotiations serves no purpose. To expect to achieve a comprehensive agreement in less than 24 months seems unrealistic.
PETITION TO EXTEND
NOTES AND REFERENCES
Further teleconferences have been scheduled for the weeks beginning 20 April, 11 May and 1 June before the EU leaders’ meeting in mid June where the both sides will take stock of progress, the time when the UK team will decide whether a deal can be brokered before the end of 2020 or to leave on ‘no deal’ terms.