Brexit 5.0 – Brexit deal a victory for the EU?

Just like the EU motto goes, the Whitehouse team is “united in diversity“. So, on a key week in Brexit, we bring to you not one but two Brexit roundups, each offering a different perspective on the newly struck deal between the EU and the UK.

Brexit 25.0 it is, then! For a different perspective on the deal, check out our Chairman Chris Whitehouse Brexit 5 blog.

A deal is a deal

The EU-UK deal is finally sealed, just a few hours before Christmas eve and in time for approval before the end of the Brexit transition period on 31st December 2020. While many of us will devote the next few weeks to a careful review of the text, here is a reminder of its three key pillars:

  1. A new economic and social partnership …

… with zero tariffs and quotas on all goods compliant to rules of origin, a robust level playing field including effective mechanisms, continued and sustainable transport connectivity, a new model for energy trading and connectivity, a new framework for joint management of fish stocks, coordination on some social security rights of EU citizens and UK nationals, and continued participation in EU programmes if the UK contributes to the budget financially.

  1. A new framework for law enforcement and judicial cooperation …

…in criminal and civil law matters, with cooperation of national police and judicial authorities so that cross-border crime and terrorism can be fought. If the UK does not comply, this cooperation can be held off by the EU.

  1. A new governance framework …

… that is horizontal, with clear operation and control systems & a new Joint Partnership Council. This includes binding enforcement and dispute settlement mechanisms that must ensure a level-playing field between businesses on either side of the Channel. Cross-sector retaliation in case of violations will be possible. The EU feels strongly that its rules and standards must be respected, and effective tools will be in place to react if fair competition is distorted.

An ambitious set of priorities to negotiate in such a short period of time – and during a global pandemic. Some – like Chris – see this deal as a victory for the UK and a major boost to Boris Johnson’s political credibility. And it may indeed be argued that he becomes the first Tory Prime Minister in three decades not to be brought down by the European question.

Others, instead, see the deal as a victory for the EU (or a defeat, at least in part, for the UK). Here is why:

First, in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum many thought the vote was also going to mark the end of the EU as a supranational organisation. The Netherlands, Italy, Greece, France and others were all going to follow Britain and claim back their full sovereignty. Four and a half years in, all 27 EU Member States are still sitting around the same (for now virtual) table. Under Michel Barnier’s leadership, the EU has negotiated a deal on behalf of all its Member States, and the road has by no means been bumpier than in the UK when it comes to internal fights and disagreements. A victory in itself! Sure, today’s deal will still need to be signed off by EU Member States and the European Parliament, but it is undeniable that the EU has proved to be a lot more united on this exceptionally complex issue than many others.

Second, UK citizens will no longer have the freedom to work, study, start a business or live in the EU. They will need visas for long-term stays in the EU. Border checks will apply, and passports will need to be stamped. From 1st January 2021, British nationals wanting to visit the continent may even be caught by COVID-19 restrictions and be prevented from travelling to the EU (something that will not apply to EU nationals living in the UK). Additionally, by choice of the UK government, UK students will no longer be able to access the Erasmus programme, a move which has been branded as “cultural vandalism by the UK government” by Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Like it or not, the Erasmus programme has expanded opportunities and horizons for many young people, and helped them learn foreign languages (a skill which will be important to negotiate trade agreements).

Thirdly, Boris Johnson may become the first Prime Minister to divide the United Kingdom if Scotland decides to ask for a second independence referendum – something which is seen somewhat unlikely but that wouldn’t help Britain’s case during a time of great change. Recent polls show that Scottish independence is more popular than ever, with more than 62% of Scottish people having voted against Brexit. Minutes after the news that a Brexit agreement was reached, Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon clearly stated that “it’s time to chat [Scotland’s] future as an independent, European nation. Boris Johnson had firmly rejected any calls for a referendum in January 2020, yet Sturgeon refused to rule out taking the Prime Minister to court if a new independence referendum in rejected, insisting “all options” are on the table.

Fourthly, this deal (welcomed by Ursula von der Layen with “satisfaction”, but also “relief”) does not preserve the frictionless trade with the EU bloc the UK currently enjoys as part of the single market and will see new border checks applied to UK and EU goods. It is the first trade deal in history to erect rather than remove barriers to trade between the two sides. For a process that – at least in the eyes of Brexiteers – was going to finally cut red tape stemming from EU membership, life outside of the EU does not look so stress-free for the UK; it will increase bureaucracy and see traders fill in an estimated 200 million customs declarations a year, while official estimates say it will cost the UK 4% of GDP in the long term compared our remaining in the EU.

Lastly, Boris Johnson explained that this Agreement is designed to honour the instruction of the British people to take back control of UK laws, borders, money, trade and fisheries. He said, “Brexit is not an end but a beginning, the start of a new era of national change and renewal”, but he is yet to lay out a comprehensive and convincing vision for post-Brexit Britain. Even then, if 2020 has taught us something, is that no one can predict what the future will look like. Instead, the current benefits of EU membership are well known and predictable for those who are still part of the club. As an aide memoire, the EU was quick to publish a handy overview of the benefits that the UK is giving up by leaving the EU (in case any Member States wanted to follow suit: you have been warned!). Will the devil we know turn out to be better that the devil we don’t? Only time will tell.

We would like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Cheers to a new partnership between the EU and the UK!

With the end of the transition period, there will be an increasing need to ensure UK based organisations are ably represented in Brussels to monitor and influence the policies and regulations that will help or hinder their growth in the future. Being in a position to understand the impact of the UK being a “3rd country” on key legislation and definitions will be vital to making decisions on where and on what to act. Similarly, the UK government will be in a position to review and repeal EU legislation that is seen as burdensome and that negatively affects industry and consumers. With a firm foot on both sides of the Channel and a long track record of shaping national and European policies and regulations in highly technical sectors as well as working with trade associations and their members, we are ideally placed to help. For more information on our EU work, please contact our Director of European Affairs, Viviana Spaghetti at