After years of debate, months of face-to-face or video meetings interspersed with the complications of coronavirus, and days of increasingly tense talks, this is now indeed crunch time for reaching a trade deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union in the final and most critical stage of Brexit.
For most of us, the talks between London and Brussels seem anathema: the reality though is that should both sides fail, the result will be an economic shock that will stretch far beyond the borders of the EU, will sideswipe the global marketplace and will deliver a sharp shock as finances are stretched in the recovery from the global pandemic and its economic complications.
When Lord David Frost from the UK and Michel Bernier from the EU sit down to thrash out the final shape of any deal, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Failing to reach a deal sets an economic train wreck in slow motion, with chaos and recriminations likely to last a long time
Yes, the UK already left the EU on January 31 last, but its relationship with the third-largest economic power is unchanged during the transition period that runs out on December 31. Any deal must be ratified by all the separate governments involved — if a deal is to be done it has to happen this week. And the sooner the better.
On Saturday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson talked directly to Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission. Most of the issues on security, the environment, workers’ rights, the conditions for trade, have been agreed. But there remain three central and key issues yet to be resolved — fishing rights for European trawlers in the rich fishing waters around Britain, ensuring that there is a level playing field between both sides when the UK finally leaves, and how will any disputes be resolved when issues of disagreement do inevitably arise.
Should there be no deal, then come January 1 both sides will trade under tariff regimes set by the World Trade Organisation. That means an average 8 per cent price increase on imported goods across the board, long lines at British ports, and a sharp shock for UK consumers and manufacturers at a time when its economy has suffered its worst downturn in more than 300 years.
When Lord David Frost from the UK and Michel Bernier from the EU sit down to thrash out the final shape of any deal, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Failing to reach a deal sets an economic train wreck in slow motion, with chaos and recriminations likely to last a long time. Failing to reach a deal may also threaten peace and stability in Northern Ireland and might increase calls for Scottish independence. The stakes couldn’t be any higher.