Apart from Brussels, the British are negotiating these days with Japan, Australia and New Zealand. And their foreign counterparts are not very happy with their development.
Despite the restrictions imposed on Belgium, the British delegation of 50 ‘Sherpas’ that will cross the English Channel this week on their way to Brussels will not have to quarantine when returning to London. It is a “state affairs” trip and the exception has never been more justified because, now, yes, Brexit is going to change absolutely everything.
The UK officially left the bloc on January 31. For practical purposes, everything remains the same until the end of the year. But if a trade agreement is not reached in the next four months, relations between the two parties will be governed solely by the guidelines of the World Trade Organization. That means quotas and tariffs: in short, hard Brexit.
Considering that the UK has now officially entered a recession (the first in 11 years) and the 20.4% GDP slump in the second quarter has been a historic drop, one would think that Downing Street will now do everything that it is in its hands in the new round of negotiations that begins this today to avoid the precipice.
However, sources in Whitehall (where the ministries are located) assure Revyuh that the Conservative Party of Boris Johnson has ceased to be in many respects “the pragmatic formation” that it was years ago, so that, today, anything can happen.
Fiddled with hard Brexit
The ‘premier’ is at its lowest popularity rates. A hard Brexit in a country where unemployment can go from the current 3.9% to 10% this year may not have much acceptance among the British. But the most radical ‘Tories’ ‘Brexiters’ have never wanted a pact and now consider that they can benefit from the pandemic by blaming the virus for all the setbacks that a “clean” divorce, as they call it, implies.
By October, the denouement could begin to glimpse. After all, an eventual agreement requires parliamentary ratification by all Member States, so the timetable cannot be rushed until December. And this time the extension of deadlines is complicated. The deadline for London to request extensions expired on June 30. Technical impediments have always been able to be resolved when there has been political will. However, the fact that the new European multiannual financial framework begins precisely in January makes things somewhat difficult.
Michel Barnier, the EU negotiator, has set the end of October as a deadline, a deadline that has the support of influential member states such as Germany. Although David Frost, the British negotiator, sees possible to close it even in September. “We will work to achieve it if we can,” he said.
Frost met last week with Ireland’s new prime minister, Micheal Martin, who was optimistic after the meeting. “Where there is a will, there is a way. It seems that there is a landing zone if there is a will on both sides, and I think that is the case,” he said.
The last round of negotiations that took place in July left some progress. The UK agreed to the EU’s demands that the future relationship be governed by a general framework rather than separate agreements. And for its part, Brussels has admitted that the UK will never abandon its red line for the EU Court of Justice to have any power as an arbitrator.
In any case, there are still key issues where consensus has not been reached. This is the case of fishing (with hardly any economic relevance for the United Kingdom, but of tremendous political significance for Eurosceptics) or the famous ‘level playing field’, that is, a commitment by London to maintain its labor, environmental, tax and state aid at levels similar to those of the Community, in order to avoid unfair competition.
However, although the meetings with the EU are taking center stage, they are not the only ones. When leaving the club, the United Kingdom will stop benefiting from all the agreements that the bloc has with third countries as of January. And frankly, in this aspect things are not progressing either.
A rusty country
Apart from Brussels, the British are negotiating these days with Japan, Australia and New Zealand. And, judging by the words of Winston Peters, New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister, the UK seems to be a bit ‘rusty’. “We need the British to realize that more than one deal can be negotiated at the same time,” he stresses. “They have never had a test, so to speak. It’s like entering an Ashes [famous cricket competition between England and Australia] when you haven’t played for 30 years; It is the same thing that is happening to the United Kingdom now”, he adds.
Ultimately, Peters believes that after 47 years of membership in the EU, the British machinery does not quite function at its full capacity. “We New Zealanders have had to search the high seas for a long time and therefore we are very fit when it comes to this issue. And I don’t think the UK is now,” he recently added to Radio Times.
For nearly five decades Whitehall hadn’t had to worry about trade deals. The EU was the one in charge of these matters. And now, although Johnson repeats over and over again that Brexit offers the best opportunity to turn the country back into a “global UK”, the road is not being as easy as it was sold in the campaign of the historic 2016 plebiscite.
With New Zealand, therefore, things are slow. And with Japan, despite the fact that at the beginning of August the pact seemed imminent, the negotiations have stalled over issues related to the treatment of the Stilton.
In parallel, London is also negotiating with the United States (which does not have a trade agreement with the EU). Initially, one of Downing Street’s strategies was to pressure Brussels by ensuring that talks with Washington were getting better every day. But with the presidential elections in November, Donald Trump has changed his list of priorities, so no progress has been reported either.