by Frank Schnittger
Thu Feb 27th, 2020 at 02:35:27 PM EST
Both the EU and the UK have now published their mandates for their negotiating teams on their future relationship. As might be expected at this stage, they couldn't be further apart, and some "expectations management" is no doubt involved. But neither is there anything to suggest that my central expectation of a no deal Brexit at the end of 2020 will not, in fact, come to pass.
On the EU side, one packaged deal is envisaged:
"The European Council reiterated in particular that the future relationship with the United Kingdom will have to be based on a balance of rights and obligations and ensure a level playing field."
"The envisaged partnership is a single package that comprises three main components: - general arrangements (including provisions on basic values and principles and on governance); - economic arrangements (including provisions on trade and level playing field guarantees); and - security arrangements (including provisions on law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, as well as on foreign policy, security and defence)."
On the UK side:
Our approach is based on friendly cooperation between sovereign equals. Our offer outlined today represents our clear and unwavering view that the UK will always have control of its own laws, political life and rules. Instead, both parties will respect each other's legal autonomy and the right to manage its own borders, immigration policy and taxes.
Good luck with that. The UK even states they will walk away from the negotiations if sufficient progress hasn't been made by June. I have always thought that wildly divergent expectations would lead to a breakdown in negotiations. What I didn't expect was that the Boris Johnson government would be actively trying to bring such a breakdown about.
What is absent from the UK government document is any indication as to why the EU should agree to any of its demands - beyond the assertion that it will be a negotiation between sovereign equals and will be similar to agreements the EU has already concluded with Canada, Japan, and South Korea. But the EU doesn't do equality in trade negotiations, not even with the USA where no deal has been ratified to date.
The assumption appears to be that the UK can, if necessary, live with WTO rules only. But WTO rules don't cover services - 75% of the UK economy - and, as Trump has shown, can be ignored on the slightest pretext. Johnson must be praying that Trump gets re-elected in November, because without the USA by its side, there is no reason for the EU to engage with the UK as an equal.
Continued suggestions from the UK side that it will welsh on its commitments in the Northern Ireland protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement if it doesn't get its way on other matters are also hardly designed to inspire trust on the EU side. The UK government appear to have forgotten that all 27 remaining members of the EU have to ratify any deal. Why would they do so unless it is clearly in their interests to do so? Indeed the requirement for continued solidarity and cohesion if the EU is to survive may dictate that Brexit has to be seen as a failure if the EU is not to fall apart.
So it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the UK has already given up on a mutually advantageous deal with the EU. Perhaps Johnson's Rasputin, Dominic Cummings, feels that the EU is a weak and unprincipled body which can be brought to heel when faced with the glint of cold steel in UK negotiators eyes. Perhaps the UK really believes the EU has no choice but to treat it as a sovereign equal. Perhaps whatever assurances they have received from Donald Trump has emboldened him.
But to this observer, the EU is faced with an existential challenge if it does treat the UK as an equal - the UK will have achieved through Brexit a status it never had as a member - when it was simply one of 28 voices at the table. Perhaps it is time the EU, too, embraced the reality of no deal, and prepared accordingly. No one will win, but we are now in an era of damage limitation where the continued existence of the EU trumps all.