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Analysis

May finally admits we benefit from EU’s trade deals

by Hugo Dixon | 09.02.2018

Forget all that guff about Global Britain. The prime minister is now desperate to pretend we’re an EU country post Brexit so we don’t lose the bloc’s 700 deals with other countries, covering everything from trade to air traffic and nuclear safety. The government sneaked out a technical note on “international agreements during the implementation period” yesterday as the House of Commons broke up for the recess. When ministers push out gobbledygook with precious little time to scrutinise it, that’s a sign they are trying to hide something embarrassing.

And sure enough that’s exactly what Theresa May is doing with this technical note. She’s effectively admitting that all the bravado about cutting deals around the world is nonsense – at least in the short run. During the two-year stopgap arrangement that the government’s trying to put in place to ensure the economy doesn’t fall of a cliff, it’s now also desperate to be treated as an EU “member state” for the deals the bloc has with over 100 other countries.

Wasn’t the EU supposed to be holding us back from doing trade deals and the like with the rest of the world? Wasn’t the whole point of Brexit that we were going to stride the world like latter-day Walter Raleighs? Well, er, no. Rather late in the day, our hapless prime minister has cottoned onto the fact that the EU has done some rather useful deals from which we benefit and are now anxious not to lose – such as trade deals with Mexico, Canada and Switzerland, and open skies arrangements with the likes of America.

So what’s the government’s plan? It wants the other 100-plus countries as well as the EU to “interpret relevant terms in these international agreements, such as ‘European Union’ or ‘EU Member State’, to include the UK”. No wonder May sought to bury the news as MPs went off on holiday. Jacob Rees-Mogg and his band of Brextremists would have had a conniption.

The government is trying to appease the bullies in the Tory party by saying that we’ll only be treated as an EU member state during the two-year transition it’s trying to negotiate. But that’s another example of its muddled thinking. Two years won’t be long enough. And once Rees-Mogg realises that, he’ll really go bananas.

That’s not all. Our prime minister may wish for the other countries to treat us like an EU member state during the transition. But she’ll need to get all of them to agree to do that individually. It would be naive to think that they won’t extract something in return once they realise how desperate we are. Thanks Brexiters.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

6 Responses to “May finally admits we benefit from EU’s trade deals”

  • Hi there are many thousands of ex-pats who are resident around Europe. Despite DWP saying if ex-pats already resident in Europe then healthcare will be honoured by UK; there is growing concern that Mrs May will renege on this. People need to know what their future looks like. Can you discuss this on your page
    Thank you

  • We go from bad to worse . How long can this government stay in office ? It is living from day to day and does not really know what it is doing. A terrible moment is going to come when it is all going to fall apart. Is there a precedent for this in UK history?

  • Today’s lone press conference by Michel Barnier has made it clear that there are problems with the transition/implementation period which may be insoluble. Is it not time to examine urgently the recent suggestion by Jacob Rees-Mogg (of all people) that an extension of the Article 50 time period be sought as an alternative? As far as I can see this would avoid all the problems specified by Barnier today and keep the UK longer in a decision-making situation, avoiding what Rees- Mogg calls a “vassal state” role. It would need unanimous agreement from “the 27” but I reckon this would be available. The only reason I see against this is the government’s reluctance to tell the brexiteers that the date for formally leaving the EU will be postponed. Surely there are more important considerations here than that.

  • To respond to Andrea’s point on reciprocal healthcare, I haven’t seen any specific information indicating the PM/Davis backtracking on this. It is one of the points negotiated in Phase 1 and was part of the package on Citizens Rights that was agreed with the EU team in December. If they did try to backtrack, I am certain this would be vetoed by Barnier’s team and indeed by the European Parliament, given their insistence of citizen’s rights being the number one priority. In fact, the PM would have considerable egg on her face given that she also has stated on many occasions that citizen’s rights were a priority.
    However, I notice that Davis’ new favourite phrase seems to be, “nothing’s agreed until everythings agreed”, and the cynic can only think this is so that anything agreed in Phase 1 can be bartered off against other items on Davis’ agenda.
    If that is the case, I hope the EU make it crystal clear to Mr Davis that that is not on if he wants to end up with a trade deal. After all, expats, both EU and British, are entirely innocent bystanders caught in ‘no mans land’ by Brexit, and it would be shameful to exploit their vulnerable position as bargaining chips.

  • David Quinn – The nearest I can get is an incident in the 17th century when we were at war with Holland. Their fleet sailed up the Thames and destroyed the navel docks at Chatham because the chain barrier designed to stop them had rusted and nobody was manning the cannons. The Dutch fleet then did a lap of honour round the Pool of London.

  • to David Quinn, Not exactly UK history but a good example of a country going to pieces occurred in France from 1789 to 1799. A more recent event took place in Russia in 1917 when, as you know, The Royals got the chop (as they had done in France). One would think there is a lesson to be learned there on the subject of oppressing the poor. IDS and his pals don’t to be paying attention, however.