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RIP. The easiest trade deal in history?

October 17, 2020 10:15 PM
Originally published by Babergh South Suffolk Liberal Democrats

7cap (Thanks to Heather Barnes for sharing their work on Unsplash.)Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme in July 2017, the then international trade secretary Liam Fox said: "The free trade agreement that we will have to do with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history.

Well this week we understood clearly why his application to lead the World Trade Organisation ended in failure!

After the European Council meeting agreed it was up to the UK to make concessions for a deal to be done the Prime Ministers spokesman further toughened the rhetoric by saying

"The trade talks are over - the EU have effectively ended them yesterday when they said they did not want to change their negotiating position,"

So that means no deal . Well not necessarily

After the PMs statement the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, tweeted: "The EU continues to work for a deal, but not at any price. As planned, our negotiation team will go to London next week to intensify these negotiations." Calls are planned next week between negotiators to decide what next

There are really three big issues remaining

Fisheries. A small industry in terms of value and employment but totemic to coastal communities whose livelihoods depend upon it and politically very sensitive on both sides of the channel. The fact we export most of our catch to the EU and vice versa and there is seems to be an EU acceptance the status quo on catch allocations cant remain means there has to be a way around this issue if a deal is really wanted

Level Playing Field. This is all about the alignment of employment, environmental and state subsidy rules to ensue trade remains fair between the two parties. Ironically historically the UK has used state subsidies less than those in Europe in the past. Similarly is it really conceivable that the uk really will slash environmental controls. The issue really revolves around our ability to set rules not dictated by Europe rather than much of the content about the rules

Management of the deal. ie how conformance with what is agreed in a deal is policed. Here trust is a big issue with the British government recently proposing laws to ignore parts of the international treaty on the withdrawal agreement not helping give the EU confidence they can trust us to honour the deal

If there is to be a deal it will require compromise on both sides. It is against this background that talking tough and threatening to walk away should be seen. It allows cover for these compromises and allows victory to be declared with what ever deal is actually do

The problem now is time. We have only a couple of weeks to strike a deal and there are many in the Conservative Party who believe no deal is an acceptable outcome even though it would add further pressure to an economy being ravaged by the virus lock-downs. The Prime Minister talks about being happy with an Australia type deal. Lets be clear Australia has NO trade deal with the EU ( although ironically it is in the middle of negotiating one !) but saying we want an Afghanistan type trade deal which would be equally relevant doesn't sound quits so reassuring!

So some sort of basic deal is still the favourite outcome but even if this is agreed it will involve much more form filling, lorries stacked up near ports etc. We have come a long way since the delusional days when Mr Johnson could say he wanted to have the benefits of EU membership without the costs - to be in favour of cake and eating it as he once memorably said.

Responding to the news the government has ended talks with the EU, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said:

Last December the Prime Minister told voters he had an oven ready deal with the EU. Just ten months later he tells us he has finished the talks without a deal.

We are now on the cusp of a bad trade deal or no trade deal - either of which will hit jobs and businesses hard, just when Britain is already suffering from the biggest economic crisis for three hundred years.

The Prime Minister must get back around the table and bring back a deal that protects jobs and livelihoods, already hit by the coronavirus crisis. To do otherwise would be a dereliction of his duty as Prime Minister.