Brexit - Unpicking a "Done Deal"

Brexit - Unpicking a "Done Deal"

by Pininvest Analysis

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Within the last few days, by late December 2020, Great Britain finally made public the fact that staying engaged with the European Union was the only choice available

The tortuous discussions with EU representatives appear to have had for main purpose to provide cover for British politicians who had banded together to break-up a 40-year old commitment to shared goals of democracy, and of social and economic progress

Achieved with face-saving measures such as the independent arbitrage 'rebalancing mecanism' over anti-competitive arrangements abusing the free access to the European market, or the reduction of EU fishing quotas in British waters, the agreement with the EU grants Great Britain some flexibility within narrow boundaries

The boundaries, as the UK will come to recognize, are very narrow indeed – subject to renewed negotiations and treaty agreements, probably forever – because this is the price to pay for tariff-free access to the EU market

Financial markets, apparently happy to take the political reassurances at face value, may not remain buoyant for long, with the poor fundamentals of the UK economy in sight, damaged by a galloping pandemic and weighed down by stubbornly low productivity

As for the Union, still irritated by months of self-serving acrimonious pseudo-negotiations of the British representation, the lip service to a ‘fair and balanced’ deal is the most one could expect after the loss of Great Britain's much valued contributions to security and defense, to privacy regulations and data intelligence, and to transatlantic dialogue – to name a few…

In the end, sooner rather than later, both parties to the ‘deal’ will be disappointed

…not a good omen

Looking beyond the posturing of some British politicians, more fundamental factors support this dire diagnosis

 

Trust

Signaling mutual respect by the parties and their negotiating teams, trust gains all the more value by remaining tacit but, at the same time, trust is the integral, obvious and most essential dimension of any agreement

Unfortunately, trust has been squandered by Great Britain, very publicly with the violation of the Dec. '19 Withdrawal Agreement and, more insidiously, by pushing vague negotiation goals, mirroring and feeding into public sentiment rather than seeking serious compromise

It can be argued that the British government remained enslaved to a public opinion which had no clear alternative options to consider, was left blind of the consequences and ignored the virtues of compromise

Keeping their constituencies out of the discussions altogether, the European Union were successful in maintaining a united front – between governments – but once again, the Union stuck to undemocratic practices – unable to share the decision process and to gain popular legitimacy

Inevitably, the legacy of trust to which Great Britain is entitled, rooted in a long history of struggle and sacrifice, and relayed by decade-long painstaking compromises hammered out between the European Union and the UK, fizzled

 

Values

If the lack of trust renders any agreement between sovereign states ambiguous and often short-lived, the expectations invested in a ‘deal’ by the parties involved may act as a ‘counterweight’, by demonstrating that they still adhere to the same broad set of values

Indispensable and inscrutable, values are hard to define and their sharing between parties to a negotiation preferably implicit

Hardwired in a century (and more) of diplomatic engagements (and disengagements), it is worth considering the reluctance of Great Britain to commit to the formal constraints of military alliance before World War I, besides a vaguely worded ‘Entente Cordiale’ with France (1904), and again in the run-up to World War II, the British wariness to enter alliances which might deprive the country of its freedom of choice

It must be recognized that membership of European Union broke every one of the diplomatic rules to which Great Britain has entrusted its destiny for 200 years, since the Congress of Vienna (1815)

With the exception of military alliance, the European Union, for good reason, expects member countries to work towards ever closer alliance in every legal and regulatory field – with the well-publicized intent to create and maintain a single market, operating under unified rules

With its rulings, its directives and its Court of Justice, it would be hard to conceive an entity more remote of the British perception – and unsurprisingly, the UK clung for very long to a concept of “free trade zone”, in practice with the 1960 creation of a European Free Trade Association which dissolved more or less into the EU, and in spirit by remaining aloof, as a member state, with as many ‘opt-out’ options as feasible (and there were many)

All told, the rules and regulations contrived by the EU continued to be perceived by the UK as an encumbrance, a cost of doing business in the single market – and not the common good painstakingly constructed by the Union members, to be protected as a defining feature of a shared destiny

Papered over for decades, often kept out of sight and ignored by the EU members caught up in endless negotiations amongst themselves, the difference in perception of mutual engagements might have faded for a while, but always remained a potent force, like embers under the ashes

Such is the strength of values embedded in a country’s psyche

 

The choice of a generation

As so often, when a negotiation gets caught up in probably illusory efforts to anticipate every potential misunderstanding of intent, or misinterpretation of agreed-upon terms, a fate the UK-EU ‘deal’ with its many thousands of pages seems to suffer, the dynamics of a formal treaty are ignored

With a low level of mutual trust and mildly disjointed values, the dynamics never looked promising

As circumstances evolve, the most restrictive agreements may need to account for new realities and an over-arching common purpose, recognition of the legitimacy of each counterparty and a shared sense of human destiny could be the venues of renewed dialogue

Arguably, such expectations may seem difficult to fulfill today, nor are they required in the immediate future

However, even if, over time, trust will be rebuilt, shared values will find again a common footing and the basis of a rich dialogue will be invented, this effort will be the handiwork of a new generation of politicians, entrusted by today’s youth who have, or have not yet, attained the voting age

Disappointingly, the lack of support for the enlightenment – and the education – of these future politicians and future voters, today's young people, is a dead angle of the ‘deal’, a disregard which the exclusion of the young British people from the Erasmus program emphasizes in dark undertones

As an after-thought, new forms of cultural exchange will probably be imagined, which, according to the UK's Prime Minister, will give students the chance to study 'all over the world', ' not just to go to European universities, but the best universities in the world'

The EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, expressed formal regrets about the decision by the British Government not to participate in the Erasmus exchange programme

Undoubtedly heartfelt, Barnier's concerns point at the shaky start of the UK's 'societal cooperation' with Europe... rightly so, and one might go as far as suggesting it is now up to the European Union to devise a window of opportunity for British students

'Non-EU programme countries' and 'partner countries' are already associated to Erasmus + and university affiliations with British higher education delivering scholarships might open a path for continued dialogue between the youth of Europe

 

The fact is that the exclusion of a formal commitment emphasizing the paramount importance of youth dialogue from a ‘deal’ branded as ‘historic’ proves that it is not…

Erasmus'hands by Holbein - Louvre