Time runs out for an EU-UK trade deal by year-end

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The UK has chosen gentlemen amateurs to run the EU trade talks

“We are worried about the state of play of the negotiations with the UK. We do not see how we can have a better agreement if we leave the most difficult subjects to the end. We risk running out of time.”

The UK has chosen ‘gentlemen amateurs’ to run its EU trade talks.  Neither Dominic Cummings or David Frost have ever run major trade negotiations, and they don’t understand how they operate. As a result, time is running out for agreeing a deal by year-end, as the comment from EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, confirms:

  • The EU has run trade negotiations on the UK’s behalf since it joined in 1973
  • They know the first step is for the leaders to agree the basic shape of the deal and commit to making it happen
  • Unfortunately, the UK doesn’t understand this basic fact, and so the past 7 rounds of talks have been a waste of time

The chart from the University of Surrey confirms this key issue (it is based on Michel Barnier and David Frost’s comments after each round of talks).  It shows that all the key areas – level playing fields, fish, governance and law enforcement – are still unresolved.

The problem is that the UK team naively imagines that their job is to do nothing until the last moment.  Their idea is that the EU side will then suddenly give way, and accept all the UK’s demands.  We have been involved with major trade deals. and we know this isn’t how they work.

The EU’s draft on transport highlights the reason for this.  It is 36 pages long, and is just one of around 30 major areas that need to be finalised:

  • None of these negotiations can progress until the leaders have agreed the broad parameters of the deal
  • Only then can experts go to work to resolve the hundreds of individual issues involved
  • Finally, the legal teams can then assess whether the text (probably +/- 700 pages) is operable in UK and EU law

This is why it took 5 years to negotiate all the details of the EU Single Market and Customs Union.

Businesses also need to know what is happening, so they can plan ahead. This is why Premier Margaret Thatcher began her ‘Europe open for Business‘ campaign in 1988, 5 years before the Single Market and Customs Union were due to start.

Only today’s ‘gentlemen amateurs’ could imagine that all of this detailed work could now be done in a few short weeks – and in the middle of a global pandemic and economic crisis.

The Negotiation Update section covers all the key developments