Hidden under the cover of Christmas, the Tories predictably paraded their Brexit deal as some sort of triumph; in reality it is not only unfavourable and inadequate, it is barely a deal at all. We may have avoided the catastrophic ‘no deal’ scenario but there are so many loose ends still to be addressed that we must resign ourselves to the fact that we are doomed to a Groundhog Day of never-ending negotiation. This is not what most of us call ‘getting Brexit done’!
The issue of control of British fishing waters is an example of unfinished business: the arguments have been postponed rather than sorted. The negotiation settled on a transition period of 5 years to allow EU boats to phase out the quotas of fish they catch in British waters, with the UK share increasing incrementally up to an average of 25%. After this transition period the UK will have full control over British waters. However, if after this transition the UK does not allow a portion of fishing within its waters that is acceptable to the EU, they could, and probably will, retaliate by introducing punitive trading tariffs.
The list of problems with this deal is endless: temporary arrangements for Northern Ireland, the processing of 3 million EU nationals who may be eligible to stay, the problems with transportability of qualifications between the UK and EU, health coverage when travelling, the end of our participation in the Erasmus programme, businesses fearful to invest, the necessity for new border controls, the reams of new red tape, the search for new trade deals and the worrying workforce gaps left by EU nationals who leave the service industry, the NHS and agriculture.
This is the first occasion in modern history when a deal has been ditched in order to negotiate an even worse deal.
The negotiations don’t end even if these issues are resolved. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement specifically states, “The Parties shall jointly review the implementation of this agreement and supplementing agreements and any matters related thereto five years after the entry into force of this agreement and every five years thereafter.”
Dig deeper into the 1246 pages of the agreement and the horrors just keep coming. Where there are disputes within the agreement, a joint UK-EU Partnership Council has been set up which has binding powers to settle disputes and enforce its rulings on ‘unfair competition’. This ‘Council’ could impose tariffs as punishment for ‘unfairly competing’ and will very likely be the battleground of never-ending negotiations. If ever we need a clear illustration of the hollowness of the Government’s pledge to ‘get Brexit done’ this is it. The deal has merely postponed the most difficult elements of the negotiation and ceded power to a Partnership Council empowered to make non-negotiable decisions.
One of the few certainties is that the deal will be used by a ruthless Tory Government to drive down worker’s rights, undermine environmental safeguards, advance the sell-off of our vital public services, redistribute power and wealth to the already rich and powerful, impose austerity on the less well off, and leave us with higher unemployment and lower living standards. Even before this disastrous deal, HM Treasury forecast that each household would be around £4,000 worse off. We will be poorer economically, socially and culturally.
Predictably, the deal emphasises that there must be a ‘level playing field for open and fair competition’. However, this particular measure limits the ability of government to direct public investment or state aid in order to rebuild productive capacity, develop industries and create new jobs. In terms of the impact on UK regions, it will inhibit the opportunities for Government spending on, for example, regional development strategies and thus blights any real prospect of the ‘levelling up’ promises.
Though sovereignty over Government spending could transform the fortunes of our region by using the leverage of expenditure and procurement to create a thriving local economy, this deal superglues us to the whims of market forces whilst curtailing Government interventions.
A further impact of the ‘level playing field’ and free market competition rules is that our public services, including the NHS, are left wide open to privatisation: the Tories will undoubtedly have been willing accomplices to these measures — this certainly was never highlighted as a sticking block during the closing stages of this tortuous period of negotiation.
In leaving the EU it was obviously the ambition of voters to make the UK a better place to live and work. We voted for a thriving economy, a well-funded NHS and autonomy over how we choose to run our economy. This is highly unlikely with the new arrangements.
We now desperately need forward thinking, progressive politicians to plan for the first of the five-yearly review processes (set out in the agreement) to renegotiate, or complete negotiations, by outlining a critique of the many flaws and a vision to achieve a more positive future outside of the EU. We must ensure that the economy is rebalanced to benefit all regions of the UK and that the EU does not obstruct a UK Government in deciding how and where to fund a progressive economic development and regeneration strategy. This is not a job for the Tories!