A UK DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT
The Government’s Summary document of the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement (Summary) provides slim pickings for anyone looking for legal detail. This is largely because, as a package for the economy and our region, it won’t bear scrutiny and the Government has again resorted to presentation above substance.
Whatever happens in Parliament, because of government incompetence and intransigence, the largest legislative decision in generations, of consequence for generations, will be scrutinised in hours, not days or weeks.
A TRADE DEAL TO IMPOSE BARRIERS
The first trade deal in history to increase barriers to trade, needs to be recognised for what it is – another stab at the contradiction that is Brexit.
It is a worse trade arrangement than what we had before with the EU, worse than a “national compromise” of soft single market Brexit, worse than a Theresa May’s “Conservative compromise” quasi-Customs Union Brexit.
It is a pointless Johnson Brexit.
When a large majority could have delivered substance, his chosen deal no longer includes the single market and consequently, does little for 80% of the UK or regional economy. Nor does it help the promises of levelling up, which are dependent on economic redistribution of the UK economic pie.
The orderly dissolution of trading and personal rights is no more than an agreed amputation, when compared to no deal; it still debilitates.
And yet, despite the sacrifice of proper parliamentary scrutiny, this is far from the end of EU legal involvement in our lives. Whilst the UK won’t have a vote at the table, and citizens may not recognise future rubber stamp, Westminster legislation that is simply following Brussels, it will still be there.
How to deal with the dominance of US tech giants or the Chinese century alone? So much, indeed most, of the UK’s place in the world will continue to be shaped with co-operation with the EU, as its significant neighbour.
If we look at Canada’s relationship with the United States, we see extensive accommodation of US investors’ interests in law. Alternatively, take the former states of the Soviet Union and their ongoing relationship with Russia.
In truth the UK (and EU) have recognised this. Whilst the Prime Minister studiously ignores it, this interdependence is in the document, indeed prominently so.
REPLACEMENT STRUCTURES INTRODUCED
The Summary in Part 1 refers to a Partnership Council and a “network of other committees including on trade”. Many future policy aspirations pepper the document, for example on improving “export declaration data share” in the Customs Chapter or “Specialised Committees” for Road Transport, suggesting some surprisingly fundamental trade issues have yet to be agreed.
A Nuclear Co-operation agreement will also be signed. It illustrates that the UK will continue to create mutual structures and pool sovereignty by signing treaties and other detailed legal agreements with the EU in many areas.
It just won’t be done from a position of strength or with voting rights within the main EU structure, or under the spurious glare of a real time negotiation on 24-hour news. But it will still be there.
Summary Article 81 concerns the “level playing field” of fair competition regulation. The tariff free arrangements of this deal in goods from the common starting point of a single market, will continue to involve the ongoing development of EU legislation.
Tortuous drafting focusses on “no compromise on sovereignty” that does not involve the European Court of Justice (ECJ) “in any way”. Arbitrators will procedurally take the place of ECJ Judges, akin to arbitration provisions in many international treaties, but the law that will be considered by those individuals will predominantly be EU law.
The automotive sector has what should be more accurately called a “preferential tariff” and complex rules of origin qualifications will need to be worked through. Will the proportionate share of Minis manufactured in Oxford, as opposed to the Netherlands and Slovakia be the same in 5 years’ time?
Battery investment, cited by Johnson as a big win, has remained at BMW in Germany and Tesla has chosen Berlin for its European factory. AESC who took over Nissan’s battery manufacturing site in Sunderland are reported to be considering building a new plant in the EU.
Science and research will remain key to the regional economy and it is not yet clear how EU research collaboration and funding will be replaced and how reliable the UK government will prove to be on these issues.
Equivalence places financial services in regulatory limbo whereby equivalence is declared or removed at the behest of the EU. Financial services have been expressly left out of the agreement, despite its importance to GDP, national tax receipts and to the Oxford region.
Professional Services are clearly not able to enjoy their previous borderless arrangements or mutual recognition. Instead, they have defaulted to a “framework” of lesser arrangements with recognition of qualifications “to be negotiated on a profession-by-profession basis”.
Erasmus is absent and will be denied to UK students, in an act of cultural spite, that levels down both educational and economic opportunity. It remains to be seen how a replacement UK scheme can work, when it requires European reciprocity and goodwill. The Irish Government has already stepped in to support Northern Irish students and many individual and institutional acts of farsightedness will be need by Universities, schools and civil society to preserve these options.
A generational shift is about to be made, with little time for scrutiny and a wilful failure to appreciate the realities of interdependence.
This is just a first look that only skims the surface. But it is clear that this is a very bad deal for our area and our country. Just how bad will likely only emerge over months and years.
The trade agreement alone consists of 486,549 words. The government is giving it one day’s debate, which will take place on 30 December. An MP who did nothing other than read the agreement from cover to cover would be able to give under a second’s consideration for each word.
This is no way to run a playgroup, and certainly no way to consider a document that could affect this country’s future for decades to come.
It is the action of a government scared of scrutiny. It is the action of a government more focussed on what is best for itself than what is best for the country. It is the action of a government that knows it taken the wrong path, but is too weak and too proud to admit it.