The outlook for 2021 is positive, with vaccinations being rolled out from 4 January and with PWC predicting UK’s long-term economic growth could outpace leading EU countries.
Boris Johnson has reached the parts of the EC/EU that other Prime Ministers have failed to reach. In a carefully managed negotiation, a zero tariff trade deal and social partnership with the EU was announced on Christmas Eve—a gift and consolation to the nation to lessen the pain of further Covid-19 restrictions and another triumphant victory for Johnson.
UK talked of an “Australia style” departure, otherwise known as a “No Deal” because of the UK-Australia deal on WTO terms. But having officially left the EU on 31 December 2019, few really believed Johnson would carry out his “No Deal” threat. Pre-Christmas, Johnson, personally, and his team took a last stand and stab at an agreement. It seems both sides were willing and an amenable atmosphere prevailed. Johnson’s campaign promise of “Get Brexit Done” has been fulfilled and his political integrity, which was pummelled by the pandemic, has rebounded in the latest polling.
A collaborative framework has been established between law enforcement and judicial authorities across civil and criminal matters and the agreement is supported by a network of committees, including committees on trade, governance, fisheries, transport and health security. A termination clause permits either the UK or EU to terminate the Agreement with 12 months’ notice, and certain areas of cooperation have bespoke termination clauses, meaning that either party can decide to cease cooperation in an area without the whole agreement being terminated. The UK and EU also agreed on the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement and the Security of Classified Information Agreement. Foreign policy, external security and defence cooperation are not covered by the Agreement.
According to the French press, the chaos induced by the French at the port of Dover and tacit support of the European Research Group (ERG) for a deal urged the negotiations forward. Knowing the deal was on the wire, President Ursula von der Leyen introduced Stephanie Riso, Deputy Head of Cabinet for the President, to the negotiations, as Michel Barnier’s intransigence was going nowhere. Riso told the negotiating team that keeping UK in the single market post-Brexit would cost approximately 10% of Europe’s GDP over a period of 15 years. When the UK team introduced the Rebalancing Clause—essentially a sovereignty clause—the negotiations become constructive; this is a mechanism that allows both UK and EU to re-open the agreement in an area of contention for review, without affecting the rest of the treaty; this clause avoids UK being subject to unknown future EU tariffs.
The Conservative Party’s influential group of Eurosceptic backbenchers’ legal advisors have accepted the Agreement on the basis it reaffirms the sovereignty of the UK, and UK remains free to make its own laws, both of which were Johnson’s plan all along.
Northern Ireland remains politically a part of United Kingdom, but commercially and customs-wise subject to EU rules and regulations, as in the single market and customs union, this can be reviewed and a continuum voted on in four years (2024) by the Stormont Northern Ireland Assembly. As there is effectively a border in the Irish Sea, the original 2019 Withdrawal Agreement Protocol remains in place, with checks between GB and NI, with jurisdiction under the EC and the ECJ. It suggests there will be no checks and no tariffs from NI to GB, but random checks and no tariffs GB to NI. A separate framework for Gibraltar has been approved with the Spanish government and is with the EC to initiate negotiations for the formal treaty.
On the thorny issue of fisheries, EU and UK agreed on a new framework for the joint management of fish stocks in UK and EU waters. The Agreement provides for continued access by EU vessels to UK waters during a 5½ year period up to mid-2026, during which EU vessels are to have defined, but progressively declining, shares of the Total Allowable Catches of fish species as specified, it does not require the UK to continue to follow and apply the Common Fisheries Policy rules. At the end of this transitional period, the UK will have the legal right to take full control of its waters and be able to further develop British fishing activities.
All 27 EU countries ratified the deal before it landed in the UK. Parliament was recalled to pass the legislation resulting in a gratifying majority of 448; only 78 Noes. The Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) opposed and a cocktail of the usual anti-Brexit MPs voted against the Bill. The SNP feels the agreement adversely affects the Scottish fishing sector. The DUP never objected when the agreement was proposed and yet they are happy to take the credit when Westminster doles out the economic support. Nigel Farage, formerly of UKIP, and now joint leader of the Brexit Party, celebrated that his grassroots campaign of 30 years had finally been successful.
Johnson can be satisfied that he fulfilled his promise and unified the Conservative party—Brexiteers are delighted, Remainers are resigned to move on, only financial services await arrangements similar to the UK-EU on goods with potential for equivalences.
The outlook for 2021 is positive, with vaccinations being rolled out from 4 January and with PWC predicting UK’s long-term economic growth could outpace leading EU countries like Germany, France and Italy. UK could be the fastest growing G7 economy. They forecast that by 2050, the UK will have fallen by just one place from 9th to 10th in global economy rankings. PWC emphasises the importance of building strong political and trading relationships with new, emerging economies, which augurs excellently for Boris Johnson’s—as PM of a newly Independent Britain—first bilateral visit to India for Republic Day.