Opinion

A Dunkirk style Brexit

Una de las idiosincrasias chuscas del proceso de salida de Europa del Reino Unido ha sido el constante recurso a la retórica de la Segunda Guerra Mundial por parte de los más fervientes partidarios del Brexit,

One of the idiosyncrasies of the process of Europe's exit from the United Kingdom has been the constant recourse to the rhetoric of World War II by the most fervent supporters of Brexit, a generation born in the post-war period, which grew up reading comic books of war exploits and watching romanticised war films. Perhaps it is not surprising then that the resolution of the free trade agreement with the European Union ended with a sort of evacuation of Dunkirk, when a new D-Day was expected. In the end, the Gordian Knot of the negotiations between Michel Barnier and David Frost was settled in the very French manner of Richelieu and Mazzarino, taking advantage of Johnson's improvised viral alibi to cancel Christmas and, knowing he was bluffing, offered the British a dress rehearsal of the hard Brexit, closing Calais; Leaving, like Hamlet, their own firecracker to explode in their faces, and creating such a stir that even Farage himself announced the end of his particular war against the Tories, at a festival of "to take back what one has said' on one side of the Channel, and of 'Schadenfreude' barely contained, on the other.   

While the signing of the agreement is good news for all parties, no-one should be misled about the scope and impact of the changes that will start to be tangible after the New Year, significantly, when the City of London is automatically excluded from the EU's single market in financial services on New Year's Eve, which bodes well for significant asset movements, since the agreement does not include passporting or financial equivalence with the EU. This raises the question of how the UK will facilitate and access the EU market to continue to manage highly profitable assets, which represent 80% of the UK economy and include commodities, equities, exchange traded derivatives, credit and interest rate swaps, energy contracts, freight derivatives, foreign exchange and bonds and euro and pound denominated buy-back transactions. 

Official UK government figures suggest that the deal will lead to a 6% economic decline over three lustrums, with hidden costs resulting from increased inefficiencies. A new bureaucracy usually emerges following a revolutionary process, and there is no reason to think that in the case of Brexit it will be any different (there is speculation about the need to recruit and train some 50,000 new civil servants).  Far from what was promised during the referendum campaign, formalities, paperwork and costs that are non-existent for companies in the Member States will now be an unavoidable burden for any British business.    

In essence, all that the agreement achieved ensures is that EU + EFTA companies can trade with the UK without incurring tariffs and vice versa, all subject to the UK observing fair minimum rules of trade competition.  

As much as the economy is secondary to the motivations of Brexit voters, it will be practically impossible, once the realities of having established a trade agreement with the European Union -substantially worse than the one that already existed- and when the aspirations of sovereignty must be compromised again, in order to have access to international markets under favourable conditions, for companies and public opinion not to push for reconversion, making Brexit stay in Bino; 'Brexit In Name Only'. A Brexit in Name Only. Especially as the Downing Street propaganda apparatus can no longer blame Brussels for its own internal contradictions and blatant incompetence.   

Beyond the commercial aspects, the agreement will allow the UK's involvement and overlap in geostrategic European affairs to be more cooperative than competitive, something which will give the occupants of the continent's main chancelleries a better night's sleep. Both partners have thus committed themselves to continuing to collaborate in combating terrorism and organised crime, including participation in Europol and Eurojust agencies and the extradition mechanism known as Euro-warrant, which is contingent on the United Kingdom's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, though it remains outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. However, the agreement includes a temporary provision for the exchange of data until both parties determine the supervisory mechanism ensuring that each other's data protection laws allow the transfer of data between the UK and the EU. This degree of integration would not have been possible without an agreement, which would have created a legal, operational and regulatory vacuum that would have been exploited by all kinds of actors to fish in a river of turmoil, with consequences that are difficult to predict.   

Proof of the risk taken is that in the interests of speed, the agreement avoids a requirement on the part of the European Union's national and regional parliaments, thus closing the door for a regional parliament such as Walloon to veto ratification of the treaty, given that the EU's legal services ruled that the agreement was an exclusive competence of the European Union.  The Johnson government, for its part, is counting on the votes of the opposition to approve the treaty, a parliamentary act which will take place on 30 December under an emergency procedure.   

As Sigmund Freud said, the best is often the enemy of the good. Without being perfect, the establishment of the agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom is far from being the worst thing that could have happened to us if we had stuck to our guns. When it comes down to it, and contrary to the predictions of the anti-EU populist right sponsored by Steve Bannon, the Brexit was not the domino that would cause the EU countries to fall in the British wake one after another. On the contrary, the EU has emerged strengthened both internally and internationally, while it has yet to prove that Britain's global influence and internal cohesion will be greater than before 2016.