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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 26 February 2021

Brexit analysis: Britain plans bright future after four years of rancour

UK now needs all 27 EU states to ratify the historic trade agreement

A Brexit trade agreement has been struck between Britain and the EU after a four-year negotiation saga. AFP.
A Brexit trade agreement has been struck between Britain and the EU after a four-year negotiation saga. AFP.

Britain will have a bright new future now that the trade agreement has been signed, those who voted to leave the European Union have promised. From freedom to strike deals across the globe, to set its own rules on immigration and to be free to make rules on issues from farming to environment laws … that at least will be the hopes of those who voted for Brexit after the deal just concluded between Britain and the EU. If the deal is ratified by all 27 EU states then it will mark an end to four years of rancour and could even lead to greater unity between Britain and EU.

Britain has, even the most diplomatic continental will admit, been quite a painful partner in the European project, vetoing much of the more federalist policies and remaining generally aloof.

The two regions will now go their separate ways. Europe, which became more unified during the Brexit period, will seek ever greater federalisation without Britain holding it back. Curiously, with a deal in place the relationship could actually become warmer as a result of the amicable divorce. By contrast, the fallout from the rancour of a no-deal would potentially have lasted decades and affected the wealth and well-being of both sides.

A man waves Union flags from a BMW Isetta as he drives past Brexit supporters gathering in central London on January 31, 2020, the day that the UK formally left the EU. AFP
A man waves Union flags from a BMW Isetta as he drives past Brexit supporters gathering in central London on January 31, 2020, the day that the UK formally left the EU. AFP

Reaching a deal means that the British government has avoided having to enforce the controversial Northern Irish clauses of the Internal Market Bill, which would have led to Britain breaking international law. Europe would then have argued, with justification, how could it negotiate with a country that reneged on its promises?

If after all 500 pages of the agreement are forensically examined and it is seen by both sides as a reasonable deal, this could be a good long-term strategy for the EU if at some future point Britain’s dreams of a going it alone went awry. Less acrimony means an easier path back to Europe in any future referendum.

The final Brexit deal will have an impact on many areas of life. From fishing, farming and finance to Scotland, immigration and legislation. In Brexiteers' minds it signals a bright new future, allowing Britain to forge its own place on the global stage. The question remains as to whether the country will fade into obscurity as a major international player or create a new Britain of stature and wealth.

The major selling point of Brexit was that it would give back sovereignty to the British rule-makers in Parliament, allowing more control of laws and regulations, without European policies forcefully imposed.

Arch-Brexiteer Suella Braverman MP, writing earlier this year before she was promoted to Attorney General, made this point: “Leaving the EU marks the beginning of a renaissance for our nation, enabling us to rethink our trade and immigration policy and restoring democratic accountability. With our break from the EU, British voters will once again know exactly who is responsible for what. British voters will be empowered.”

Pitfalls

The deal will have to be formally agreed on by all 27 EU states who will meet next month to sign it off. It could take only one country’s objections for the agreement to unravel.

Being the leading Brexiteer in Whitehall, Boris Johnson should not have a problem getting the deal past his cabinet and he is understood to have consent of the hardline Brexiteers.

Singapore-on-Thames

In brightest of Brexiteer imaginations, this is nirvana to which Britain will arrive in a few years, achieving the high GDP growth and low-tax entrepreneurship of Singapore. The financial hub of London’s Square Mile could help stimulate free enterprise of the efficient city state that combines cultural diversity with low unemployment and low crime. Brexiteers would like to see Britain cast aside Europe’s “snail’s pace” of growth and wealth creation.

Trade

Britain will be able to use its newfound freedom from the EU customs union to link its exporters to global centres of dynamic growth, such as the Gulf region and east Asia. There is already demand for British services and goods in these new markets, which will account for nine-tenths of world growth over the next decade. This could encourage lower prices.

Britain will hope to establish numerous bilateral trade deals – setting its own tariffs with countries such as Japan, Canada and in South America, although the big prize of the US might be more of struggle with pro-European Joe Biden becoming president.

Fishing

Despite fishing being worth a mere 0.12 per cent to British GDP, it was a totemic battleground on which the deal almost foundered. French President Emmanuel Marcon was keen to satisfy the strong French fishing lobby, as were the Belgians and Danes who were loath to see their fleets diminished.

The deal required Europe to recognise the UK’s ability to control fishing in its own waters but also allow the major EU fishing nations access to Britain’s rich fishing grounds. The EU has conceded to reduce by 25 per cent the amount it catches in British waters.

Scotland

The United Kingdom will face the greatest challenge to its 300-year union in the immediate years. Scotland voted 62 per cent in favour of remaining in the EU in the 2016 referendum and therefore feels it is being taken out of the partnership by force. This has built up resentment and agitation for another referendum on its independence by which it could then re-join the EU. The strength of the Scottish National Party is growing and Boris Johnson is deeply unpopular north of the border, with a second independence vote seeming possible. But with a deal done, calls for a referendum might diminish. In 2014, Scots voted by 55 per cent to 45 per cent to remain part of the UK.

Boris Johnson leaves a press conference after announcing a Brexit trade deal had finally been agreed. Getty
Boris Johnson leaves a press conference after announcing a Brexit trade deal had finally been agreed. Getty

America

President Biden is expected to strengthen ties with Germany and France possibly at the expense of Britain, forcing it to collaborate more closely with the EU. Democrats do not particularly see Britain as the centre of gravity in the Transatlantic relationship.

While paying attention to its long alliance with Britain, Mr Biden will seek to repair the damage done to Europe by Donald Trump’s presidency.

Trump was a keen supporter of a no-deal Brexit and perhaps Mr Johnson’s agreement was in part driven by Mr Biden’s pro-EU stance and refusal to accept a hard border in Northern Ireland. Some close to Mr Biden question how a Britain outside the EU can make itself relevant in the 'Great Powers' struggle of China, Russia and America, alongside India.

CAP

The Agriculture Act that became law last month allows Britain to phase out the EU’s Common Agricultural Payment to farmers over the next seven years. With Britain no longer having to contribute £4 billion to the CAP it hopes to spend more on environmental projects although a well-considered plan is still lacking. Currently farmers receive a subsidy of £233 per hectare and the CAP can account for 55 per cent of their income.

Immigration

Britain will now have near total autonomy on how it manages low-skilled immigration with labourers from the EU no longer having an automatic right to work in Britain. It will introduce an immigration law based on skills and talent that Britain will be able to manage.

However, the pandemic demonstrated how reliant Britain is on low-skilled foreign labour, particularly in the NHS.

Updated: December 24, 2020 10:21 PM

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