The type of Brexit deal advocated by Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage is a fantasy, according to former trade negotiator David Henig.
Both Johnson and Farage advocate negotiating a ‘free trade agreement’ (FTA) with the EU, believing it will enable us to “enjoy the benefits of preferential free trade with the EU, particularly in goods, but equally be free also to make our own trade deals, including with the US.”
But Henig, who has worked closely on trade deals with both the UK and EU in recent years, says this is imaginary politics.
Disregarding the monumental issue of the Irish border, that wouldn’t be solved by an FTA, Henig says that an FTA is just another example “of us attempting to cherry pick, to get most of the trade benefits of EU membership without the bits we don’t like.”
This, he says, won’t fly with the EU. He points out several things that the EU would insist upon from an FTA, that British politicians would find difficult to stomach:
- Trade protection for EU regional products. He says: “this is simply non-negotiable.”
- Common standards between the EU and UK – on food regulations, for example. The USA would also insist on common standards, if we wanted to do an FTA with them. Therefore, in Henig’s words, “The UK is going to have to make a choice between prioritising EU and US trade deals.”
- Alignment of regulations. The EU would insist on Britain signing up to Single Market regulations – something that would be loathed by Brexiteers.
- A commitment not to undercut labour or environmental laws. While this would be welcomed by the Labour Party, it’s unlikely that Farage or Boris would be so enthusiastic.
Henig summarises by saying: “We are back to the problem, since 2016, of the UK wanting a deal keeping what we have and losing what we don’t, and the EU not being able to accept that, for the reasons above, and for its own survival.”
What’s more, for all the bravado of Brexiteers, who say that the EU will fold to our demands if only we negotiate with more courage and zest, Henig points out an undeniable fact: the EU is the larger market with more to offer. It will always have the upper hand in trade negotiations with smaller countries (which is why our membership of the EU gives us huge economic benefits).
Boris and Farage think that an FTA is the magic solution to the Brexit dilemma. They’re categorically, blatantly wrong.