I am writing in relation to the news analysis piece by global affairs correspondent Jonathan Eyal (Details elusive amid relief over EU’s trade deal with Britain, Dec 27, 2020) that misrepresents several elements related to the newly negotiated EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which I would like to comment on.
First of all, Mr Eyal assumes that the EU-UK agreement needs to be ratified by the national Parliaments of the 27 European Union member states.
However, on the EU side, the agreement requires only the consent of the European Parliament and no separate ratification by national Parliaments. The national Parliaments were regularly informed about the progress in the negotiations with the United Kingdom, and EU member states unanimously approved the signature and provisional application of the agreement in the Council of the European Union on Dec 29 last year.
This once again showed the unprecedented unity with which the 27 EU member states approached the Brexit negotiations.
Second, the article describes the trade part of the EU-UK agreement as “the most significant single trade agreement Europe has ever contemplated”. This statement ignores the fact that this agreement is perhaps the first that does not improve the trading relationship between the parties.
Instead of eliminating trade barriers, which would usually be expected from a trade deal, it introduces barriers by creating a relationship that is far inferior to the one that the UK and the EU enjoyed previously (that is, during UK’s membership in the EU).
Following the UK’s decision to leave the EU single market and Customs union, the agreement will help in limiting the disruptions as compared with a situation without an agreement being in place, but it will be far less beneficial.
Third, Mr Eyal indicates that as a result of the finalisation of the agreement, “people and goods will continue to move freely between the UK and Europe, and few will notice any difference”.
While the consequences might not be as visible on the first days of this year, they are real and will become noticeable over time.
Let me give just a few examples.
When it comes to the movement of people, UK visitors to the EU will now require visas for stays over 90 days in a 180-day period, and will no longer benefit from the freedom to work, study, start a business or live in the EU without obtaining the necessary permits.
Even with the new agreement in place, businesses will no longer be able to benefit from the free movement of goods and will face new trade barriers, leading to increased costs and requiring adjustments to integrated EU-UK supply chains.
Customs formalities and checks on UK goods entering the EU have been reintroduced, which in turn will lead to more border delays and impact on just-in-time delivery.
Value-added tax and excise duties due upon importation to the EU will have to be paid on UK goods (also those purchased online).
UK food exports must have valid health certificates and border checks will be carried out systematically, which was not the case before.
The completion of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement provides a solid basis for preserving our longstanding friendship and cooperation with the UK and should be welcomed.
However, one has to acknowledge that it will by no means match the level of economic integration that existed while the UK was an EU member state.
European Union Ambassador to Singapore
Global affairs correspondent Jonathan Eyal’s reply:
Ambassador Plinkert is right to correct me on the question of who needs to ratify the deal concluded between the EU and the UK.
She is also right to enumerate all the differences between the rights and obligations the UK enjoyed as a full EU member and those the government in London will enjoy under the recently concluded treaty.
But she is wrong to criticise me for appearing to gloss over these differences.
I did write that, as a result of the treaty, people and goods will continue to move freely. However, that passage was written in the context of the previous doomsday scenarios about potentially catastrophic disruptions at EU-UK borders.
Yet in all other places, I made explicit references to the differences between the new treaty and the UK’s previous status.
Reading Ambassador Plinkert’s extensive letter, one is tempted to conclude that its real objective is not just to correct my single inaccuracy, but to persuade readers that the UK ended up paying a heavy price for its departure from the EU. That may, of course, be true. And it remains a perfectly justifiable position for an EU envoy to take.
But even though, as a citizen of several countries, I owe personal allegiance to both the UK and the EU, it was not a message that I felt was up to me to convey.