The Brexit deal

The United Kingdom and European Union have reached a post-Brexit trade agreement after many months of negotiations. The no-deal Brexit that many expected and some feared has been avoided.

I lack the knowledge to evaluate either the deal or a no-deal scenario. Instead, I’ll present for consideration the views of the estimable Melanie Phillips.

She’s delighted, above all, that the UK is finally free of the EU. I know enough to understand her delight.

Phillips writes:

Maybe in due course some buried horrors will emerge. But at present, it does look as if Boris Johnson really has delivered his country from the grip of the EU and restored its ability to govern itself as an independent nation.

That’s principally because the deal frees the UK from the European Court of Justice, and thus from the power of the EU to impose its will through laws that bind the British parliament. So the UK is now able once again to create its own laws and policies in accordance with the democratically expressed wishes of the people. . . .

The deal with the EU confers the added benefit that the UK has freed itself while still being able to engage in trade without tariffs and quotas. However, that benefit comes with strings:

[What’s] concerning. . .is the undertaking to stick to EU standards and the ability of the EU to impose a tariff where it claims unfair competition. While many such standards are entirely reasonable, and any possible claims of unfairness will operate equally for both sides, there is potential scope here for serious trouble ahead.

Disputes will be arbitrated by an independent tribunal composed from both sides and with a chairman chosen by both. It remains to be seen, however, quite how independent this will be in practice. And the battle over the UK’s all-important financial services is yet to be had, the issue having been inexplicably parked unresolved.

But it’s not unusual for trade agreements to come with standards and a mechanism for arbitrating disputes. Thus, as Phillips states:

What [Boris Johnson] has signed with the EU is therefore more akin to a conventional treaty between states (or in this case, the UK and the EU “super-state”) which has an exit mechanism and which future governments can therefore renegotiate or reverse.

The real concern is that “since neither Johnson nor his successors will ever again be able to leverage the threat of leaving without a deal, the British government may once again take the path of least resistance in any future negotiation with the EU and sell British interests down the river.” Indeed, “the instinct for appeasement displayed by successive prime ministers as a political default does not inspire overwhelming confidence,” says Phillips.

That’s why Phillips was inclined to favor a no-deal Brexit. Even so, she concludes:

[T]he deal that has been done is very much better than the Brexiteers had anticipated, in that sovereignty has been regained. The UK has taken back control of its own destiny. Now we’ll see whether it will exploit or squander the opportunity.

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