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Five Reasons Why Tories Can’t Get Brexit Done

Five Reasons Why Tories Can’t Get Brexit Done

Sajid Javid claimed this morning that a “fantastic new trade deal” is already done with the EU, suggesting that it’s just a formality to dot some ‘i’s and cross some ‘t’s. That will be news to European governments who are yet to even sat down to agree the scope of negotiations; a process likely to take many weeks in itself. 

The Chancellor was seeking to shore up the Conservative boast that they would achieve in one year what it took Canada five years to get - a trade deal with the EU. No one believes him. Not only would it be extraordinary to settle the entire relationship between Britain and the EU five times faster than it took Canada, but it would almost certainly be more difficult for the UK because at the heart of any Brexit negotiations sits Britain’s desire to move further away from Europe whereas other nations seeking a deal with the EU want to move closer on alignment.

This matters because the Tory mantra in this election is ‘Get Brexit Done’, yet if Britain woke up on December 13th with Boris Johnson still prime minister most experts agree that Brexit would not get done by the end of 2020. In other words, their slogan is an illusion. It took Britain the best part of two years to get a basic Withdrawal Agreement so on that basis alone the idea that there is no ‘oven-ready’ deal covering tariffs and terms of trade, dispute resolution, social, health and environmental regulations is fantasy.

There are five reasons why Brexit won’t get done within the timescales that Javid and Johnson claim:

1 - The reason why EU deals take so long to conclude is that they are immensely complicated, covering services, security, investment, government procurement, and intellectual property rights. Javid talked about Britain and the EU being ‘aligned’ but for many Brexiteers their project is about moving away from the EU on many of these lucrative areas. It is possible to be aligned on environmental and consumer standards while seeking divergence on others. But we know that environmental and consumer standards and workers rights’ were removed from the latest Withdrawal Agreement indicating Johnson’s wish to move further away from the EU on these issues. Resolving these tensions will not be easy.

2 - Conservatives like to portray the trade deal as a simple matter of tariffs. If only that were the case. The deal will need to cover transnational corporations. A Johnson government would come under pressure from Donald Trump to favour US businesses that operate by different standards and regulations, and that would, in turn, throw a spanner in the works of EU negotiations. A deal would need to encompass state-to-state dispute resolution and investor-state dispute settlement, where a company has the right to directly take a case against a government. 

3 - Parliament won't accept Johnson's belief that the government can negotiate a deal under Royal Prerogative and that MPs have no role in setting the negotiating mandate, no oversight of the negotiations, and is not even guaranteed a debate or an affirmative vote on the final agreements. The last year in Westminster has proven that parliament will likely insist on having their say at every stage on issues like workers rights’. On regulation, parliament will want to be reassured that on regulation not only will standards remain aligned to Europe, but that the regulation takes place in Britain (ie. not taking non-EU countries word for it that, say, a meat product meets certain hygiene levels). The first thing MPs would do is seek to set a framework, not least because MPs from all sides do not trust Johnson and that will be uppermost in their minds as a result of the redacted NHS documents. And that means the negotiating timetable will be delayed from Day One. 

4 - Workers’ rights, which Johnson removed from the Withdrawal Agreement, will be a hot topic in negotiations, and not just for British workers. The EU has Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapters in all of its trade agreements which are seen by EU representatives as a vital first step towards responsible supply chains around the world. Any attempt by Johnson to water down the UK’s responsibilities will take up time in the negotiations. The EU also conducts ‘sustainability impact assessments (SIAs) of all new trade agreements, so commitments to uphold human rights’ will have to be respected. 

5 - Any hope of getting a fully-fledged trade deal by the end of 2020 is unlikely even if there were complete harmony and agreement on most issues (highly improbable in itself) due to the EU’s negotiation processes. Negotiations involve over 30 stages, including decision-making by the European Commission, the European Council, and the European Parliament. So even if an agreement was ‘oven-ready’ the EU would need to agree on a whole new fast-track timetable, especially for Britain just so that Johnson could keep his election pledge. They are not that generous.

All this adds up to one thing - Johnson’s promise to ‘Get Brexit Done’ in the timescale he sets out is as worthless as the words on the side of the Brexit bus that leaving will give the NHS £350 extra per week. The reality of EU negotiations means that it will take far longer than one year to conclude Britain’s relationship with the EU.

  • Lester Holloway is Communications and Events Officer at CLASS

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