The Brexit Transition Period Will Be Extended
Perhaps it was unrealistic forto have expected the to engage seriously with the trade-offs and concessions that are essential to a long-term trade agreement while Johnson was in the hospital. is Boris’ big thing. He made it. Other Tory ministers have no leeway to make decisions without his personal imprimatur. He has purged the Party of all significant figures who might have advocated a different vision of a post- trade agreement with the .
The point of’s intervention is that now Johnson is back at work, he will need to give clear strategic leadership to the negotiating team. If he fails to do so, we will end up on January 1, 2021, with no post- deal on future relations and an incipient trade war between the and the — and Ireland will be on the front line.
The scars left by the COVID-19 pandemic will eventually fade, but those left by a willfully bad— whether brought on deliberately or by inattention — may never heal. This is because a bad will be a deliberate political act, whereas COVID-19 is just a reminder of our shared human vulnerability.
No Draft Proposal on Future Relations
In 2019, Johnson signed up to an sanitary, and phytosanitary controls between Britain and Northern Ireland, so as to avoid checks of goods between the north and south on the island of Ireland. So far, says he has detected no evidence that the is making serious preparations to do this. An attempt by the to back out of these ratified legal commitments would be seen as a sign of profound bad faith.withdrawal treaty to allow the to leave the union. This legally committed the to customs,
said that negotiating by video link due to the pandemic was “surreal,” but that the deadlines to be met are very real. The first deadline is the end of June. This is the last date at which an extension to the transition period beyond December 31 might be agreed upon by both sides. While the would almost certainly agree to this, there is no sign that the will. Tory politicians repeatedly say they will not extend.
This tight deadline would be fine if thewas engaging seriously and purposefully in the talks. But, according to , the Brits have not yet even produced a full version of a draft agreement that would reflect their expectations of future relations between the and the . The , on the other hand, produced its full draft weeks ago. Without full texts of the proposals, it is hard to begin real negotiations.
So far, thehas only produced portions of the proposed treaty. The insists that keep these parts of the draft text secret and not share them with the 27 member states of the . Giving Barnier texts that he cannot share with those on whose behalf he is negotiating is just wasting his time. It seems that negotiators are adopting this strange tactic because they have no clear political direction from their own side. They do not know whether these proposals are even acceptable in the .
In the political declaration that accompanied the EU withdrawal deal, Prime Minister Johnson agreed that his government would use its best endeavors to reach an agreement on fisheries by the end of July. This would be vital if thefishing industry were to be able to continue to export its surplus fish to the EU. Apparently, there has not been serious engagement from the British side on this matter either.
Level Playing Field
The other issue on whichdetected a lack of engagement by the was the so-called “level-playing-field” question. The EU wants binding guarantees that the will not — through state subsidies or via lax environmental or labor rules — give its exporters an artificial advantage over EU (and Irish) competitors.
This issue is becoming a difficult issue within the EU itself. In response to the COVID-19 economic downturn, some wealthier(like Germany) are giving generous cash/liquidity support to the industries in their own countries. On the other hand, with weaker budgetary positions (Italy, Spain and perhaps even Ireland) cannot compete with this.
It is understandable that temporary help may be given to prevent firms from going bust in the wake of the economic disruption. But what is temporary at the beginning can easily become indefinite, and what is indefinite can become permanent. Subsidies are addictive.
The reason we have a common agricultural policy in the EU is that when the common market was created, nobody wanted rich countries to be able to give their farmers an advantage over farmers in countries whose governments could not afford the same level of help. The same consideration applies to industry. Subsidies should be equal or they should not be given at all.
State aid must be regulated inside the EU if a level playing field is to be preserved. To make a convincing case for a level playing field between the European Union and the, the side will need to show it is doing so internally. This will be a test for President Ursula von der Leyen as a German commissioner.
Will COVID-19 Hide the Pain of Brexit?
Which way will Johnson turn on the terms of a deal with the? It is unlikely he will look for an extension to the transition period beyond the end of this year. He wants a hard , a clean break as he would misleadingly call it, but he knows it will be very painful. He probably thinks the pain of a hard — or no agreement at all on future relations — at the end of December will be concealed by the even greater and more immediate pain of the economic slump caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. will not be blamed for the pain. But if the transition period is postponed until January 2022, the pain will be much more visible to voters.
has become the Party. It is driven by a narrative around reestablishing British identity and is quite insensitive to economic or trade arguments. It wants done quickly because it fears the British people might change their minds. That is why there is such a mad rush. It is not rational — it is imperative.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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