A post-Brexit trade deal with the EU has been agreed and at midnight, December 31st Central European time or 11pm over here, the transition phase which allowed the UK to remain in the Customs Union and Single Market will end. The deal has been celebrated as ‘glad tidings of great joy’ by Prime Minister Boris Johnson while former Deputy Prime Minister and Tory grandee Lord Heseltine warned it would do ‘lasting damage to our country’s strategic, political and economic interests’. So, who’s right?
The threat of No Deal has been the biggest cause of concern for most, with experts predicting that outcome would catapult the UK into chaos on every front such as blocked ferry ports, shortages in food and medicines, with the NHS pushed to breaking point. An agreement not to levy tariffs on goods or impose quotas on either side is good news but the frictionless trade that is currently enjoyed by businesses will cease because of the additional bureaucracy brought on by leaving the Single Market and Customs Union. There will be a vast stack of forms to fill in and it’s been estimated an additional 50,000 new customs officers will need to be recruited to process them.
A major problem is that this deal does not cover the services’ sector which affects more than 4.6 million workers in legal, accountancy, financial and other business services. Currently, this sector contributes over 80% to the UK’s GDP and has an £18 billion surplus with the EU. The loss of financial ‘passporting’ which allows banks and financial institutions to trade freely is a key concern: for example, it was recently announced that many British expats will lose their British bank accounts.
There are still many other areas that have to be resolved, including data sharing between the EU and UK, which affects most businesses, and security. Losing access to the Schengen Information System (SIS), a vast database used for locating terrorists and criminals across Europe, will not make the UK a safer place and, equally worrying, is the UK’s loss of a seat at Europol where it used to have an influential position.
It’s difficult to see how the UK will become a better place post-January 2021 when this new relationship with the EU comes into being. Many freedoms will have been lost: the opportunity to live, work and study anywhere within the community of 27 nations that make up the European Union. More isolated than its neighbours and facing a world where other countries have banded together to form powerful pacts, the UK will struggle to keep its influence and even its union together in the event of a further Scottish referendum. The current deal is ‘thin’; nevertheless, over the years, it can be built upon as it will always be in our interests to stay aligned and co-operate as fully as possible with our nearest neighbours. And keep the peace.
On behalf of Bath for Europe
This was published in the Bath Chronicle on 31st December 2020