In January 2017, Angela Merkel followed the European Commission’s rhetoric of “no cherry-picking on Brexit”. She has since retreated from this position somewhat, by declaring that “it’s not cherry-picking to want a unique Brexit deal,” so it’s still a little blurry as to what the EU’s position is on what it refers to as “cherry-picking”.
There has been this constant mantra of “if you want in, you must follow our rules,” with meaning that Britain would have to leave the EU in nothing but name. But if the United Kingdom were to leave the institutions of the EU but still follow all the rules, it would be in an even worse position than before, as it wouldn’t have a voice at the table. This would be a clear betrayal of the Brexit vote and destroy democracy in the UK for generations.
Without going into Theresa May’s Chequers plan in too much detail, the UK, ideally, as the fifth largest economy in the world, would sign a trade deal with the EU on terms in line with an economy of our stature. The common rulebook may not cut it, but the desires to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland and keep a smooth regime in terms of goods are sensible ones. There is surely a way in which British democracy can be respected while also abiding by the Good Friday Agreement.
And while the EU has a reputation of being difficult to do business with – and some may point to the 9 years it’s taken them to thrash out a trade deal with Canada – that tune is changing. Maybe it’s Trump’s isolationist agenda, as implied in the EU Commission’s own document on the Japan trade deal: “it would send a powerful signal that cooperation, not protectionism, is the way to tackle global challenges,” or perhaps it’s just the commission attempting to address the slow growth rates in the Eurozone. Whatever it is, this isn’t the EU of 10 years ago, or even five years ago.
Canada finally managed to strike their trade deal (CETA) in 2016 and many celebrated the deal as a watershed moment for the EU. And while many Europeans didn’t completely see eye-to-eye with CETA, so far it isn’t ruffling too many feathers in local parliaments across EU member states.
What did CETA bring exactly? Well, it brought an agreement that found a middle way with what seemed like two irreconcilable parties. The EU was adamant that Canadian products had to adhere to EU standards, but the Canadians managed to achieve that without falling into the remit of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) or accepting freedom of movement.
On the day that CETA came into force, 98 per cent of EU tariffs became duty-free for Canadian goods, and an additional one per cent will be eliminated over a seven-year phase-out period. Tariff elimination will provide enhanced export opportunities into the EU market for Canadian producers, innovators and manufacturers. So surely this is cherry-picking at it’s finest – indeed, surely any trade deal in which tariffs are reduced is cherry-picking.
Indeed, more recently we saw the much-celebrated EU trade deal with Japan. The EU claimed that “a trade pact with Japan would be good news for the EU economy, for several reasons”. They highlight the new opportunities for exporting European goods and services. Britain has a 51% trade deficit with the EU on the basis of goods (as it runs a surplus on services), so will the EU be willing to lose its “opportunities for exporting European goods?” The EU-Japan deal will remove almost all customs duties which currently sum up to €1 billion annually. Similar to Canada, Japan managed to eliminate tariffs and trade barriers without accepting the remit of the ECJ or freedom of movement.
So, both of these examples beg the question: why can’t Britain – an economic and military powerhouse – be treated the same?
Our current negotiations – if we can call them that – are more becoming a battle for egos, with Eurocrats more interested in protecting their jobs and futures, rather than the economic futures of their citizens. The only reason the EU is refusing to partake in cherry-picking with Britain is that it is offended that we dared to leave the club.
Until Brussels gets serious about sitting down and negotiating a mutually beneficial trade and security deal, Britain must stand strong and stop entertaining their unreasonable demands.