On 1 January, the Hard Brexit is a fact, ‘deal’ or ‘no deal’ between London and Brussels. Yet the difference between a bargain and not a bargain is great for the British. A bilateral free trade agreement is crucial for the British economy and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Until a majority of the British came before Brexit on 23 June 2016, this came as an existential shock to the European Union. The ideal of post-war European integration was that the fragmentation and stowage of an ever closer European Union went hand in hand. It would never have been considered that this process might also change in the old order. The Cassandra predictions – that the Brexit was the beginning of the end for the EU corpses-are to be found. Following Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coronation on the European Recovery Fund last spring, the EU is showing its strength and solidarity. Not the European Political Union under constitutional pressure, but that of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The Brexit was always a dream of English nationalists, which was not shared by the Scots or the Northern Irish whose majority voted against. Respecting the voters ‘ wish to leave the EU, but at the same time keeping the United Kingdom together and not causing too much damage to the economy would therefore always be a hurdle. This balancing act was fatal to Theresa May, because a ‘soft’ Brexit, in which the country would remain a member of the European customs union and the internal market, would bombard the UK into a vassal state of the EU. The only logical way out – at least with the illusion of national sovereignty-was always a ‘hard’ Brexit.
That hard brexit – for which Boris Johnson campaigned in December 2019 and was given a clear mandate from the British electorate – is coming on 1 January, ‘deal’ or not ‘deal’ between London and Brussels. No more free movement of goods, services, capital, and people. Everything and everyone is checked at the border, with inevitably long queues, tedious paperwork, and a whole host of new licenses, international passports, and permits as a result. No one in the UK is really ready for that, because that is obviously not what was voted for. However, the difference between ‘deal’ and ‘no deal’ is quite large – for both sides, but especially for the British.
Firstly, if there is no bilateral trade agreement on 1 January, trade tariffs and border taxes in the EU are levied on a large proportion of British goods. In one move, this will seriously damage politically sensitive sectors such as British agriculture, fisheries and the car industry, which will find it difficult to compete with their EU counterparts. Without an agreement, the EU will have to apply the principles of the World Trade Organisation, which means that the British cannot be treated better than other members such as Russia or China. It may be catastrophic for the British economy.
Secondly, a free trade agreement is crucial for Johnson. It facilitates agreement on important side issues, such as minimising customs formalities and streamlining all rules on bilateral trade. But so many other sectors – such as aviation, road transport, Eurostar, financial services, legal services, consulting, Energy, police and security cooperation – must also be given a new legal framework. Start when EU-UK relations are completely broken down and below freezing.
In addition, Johnson’s Conservative government is suffering from one policy crisis to another and has a serious competence problem. This summer there was the drama with university admissions, when a government algorithm messed up the test results of many young people. Also the coronavirus, but not under control. This week’s new policies, which once again seriously restrict personal freedom, can be sustained for six months. So forget about the fun end-of-the-Year parties around the Christmas tree with family and friends.
But the greatest danger to Johnson in a no deal is the future of the UK itself. Since the beginning of this year, opinion polls in Scotland have shown a clear majority in favour of independence. The younger population is particularly enthusiastic. In the spring of 2021, there will be a regional election and Nicola Sturgeon’S SNP party will be able to cash in the’no deal ‘ -brexitchaos electoral. The call for a second referendum will sound deafening and the democratic logic is hard to resist.
But British relations with the United States will also get worse with a no deal. The Americans will then side with Ireland and will put respect for The Good Friday peace agreement (1998) in Northern Ireland first. As long as relations with the EU are not ironed out, there will be no trade agreement with the US. In any case, the policy in Belfast must be better geared to Dublin and the EU from 2021 onwards, so that Northern Ireland too will gradually drift away from England and the dream of a reunited Ireland becomes a reality. So Johnson better make a deal. Clock’s ticking.