Does the EU Really Want a Trade Deal?

The evidence suggests it doesn’t.

It feels like forever since Britain voted to leave the EU in June 2016. Following that momentous day, the long-suffering British public have been buried by a blizzard of headlines, briefings, position papers and statements of principle. Everything from security, to the Irish border, through citizens’ rights, the “divorce bill” and back to the Irish border has been subjected to the most intense scrutiny and debate. Offers, rejections, accusations and counter-offers have become the new normal for Anglo-Brussels relations.

The only subject consistently absent from this flurry of proposals and propaganda is trade.

Funny that.

It’s become increasingly clear that the EU is desperate to talk about everything except trade. It’s surely no accident that the first phase of the exit negotiations makes no mention of any future trading relationship between us, and now that phase is concluded, the thorny issue of the Irish border has popped up once again, seemingly from nowhere.

The EU knows perfectly well that its so-called “backstop” position on the Ireland issue is completely unacceptable to the UK. So why go to the trouble of including it in the draft Brexit treaty?

The outrageous “divorce bill,” demands for ECJ supremacy and now the de-facto annexation of Northern Ireland are all part of a pattern of behaviour that’s starting to resemble a disgruntled employee who’s trying his hardest to get himself fired.

Why?

To put it simply, the European Union has no political interest in being a good neighbour and dependable partner to the United Kingdom, and is therefore trying to force Britain to abandon the talks. The uncomfortable truth is that while a far-reaching and ambitious treaty will help both the people and businesses of Europe, it will not help the European Union.

And that’s what really matters.

In practical terms it should be a cinch. We’re already so closely aligned that maintaining standards for EU markets while diverging in other areas should be the easiest thing in the world, so why is the EU making it so difficult?

Because Brussels knows full well that if the UK can exit the European Union and continue with (relatively) frictionless trade, other nations will soon stampede for the door. After all, what country would not wish to strengthen its domestic legislature while paying a manageable price in terms of trade? If Britain can strike a comprehensive trade deal with the EU, then the EU is finished as a global political force, and it knows this. The once omnipotent European Union would be politically neutered and gradually reduced to the status of an international trade body if Britain gets a good deal. Ironically enough, this would transform the EU into the kind of continental trading bloc we first joined back in 1973, and that’s something most Europeans and Brits would be quite happy with. However, such a dramatic loss of political power is something that the European Union will never accept. Make no mistake, Brussels is willing to pay any price in European misery to preserve its own supremacy.

If Brexit has served no other purpose, it’s proved beyond doubt that what’s good for Europe is bad for the EU, and all Europeans would do well to think long and hard about how we got ourselves into this position.

Images courtesy of Arztsamui & franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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