A deal may be in sight for UK and the EU, and Brexit negotiations may come to an end. But that doesn’t mean the wrangling ends.
If a trade deal is reached (something that still looks slight at this time) there will still be a lot of discussion over just how Britain might use its new found freedom to diverge from EU rules and how Brussels might punish the UK for doing so.
Many agree that the UK will shun some EU standards and regulations, and accept the pain of retaliatory tariffs as a consequence. They also agree that the issue will be complex and mired in diplomatic and financial risk, with tactless moves (this is true for both sides not just bumbling Boris) seeing things descend into economic war.
Ivan Rogers a former UK ambassador to the EU, mentioned to Politico that ‘there are a lot of forces driving gradual divergence. The question is, is that divergence governable and relatively smooth and amicable or does it become difficult as people bite chunks out of one another?’
It seems that Britain does not expect a equal ‘tit-for-tat’ relationship with the EU but is aware that the level of rancor in its future relationship will depend largely on governance arrangements agreed in the deal.
There is little confidence that the UK government will play nice with the EU to make sure it approaches the big changes with tact. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is known for going rogue to get his way, and his top aide Dominic Cummings does not seem to care much for niceties.
Whilst many are warning the UK not to seek a no deal arrangement, it is expected that a UK-EU trade deal will be thin, covering basic trade but little integration which means that there will be checks at borders.
Mujtaba Rahman, the managing director for the Eurasia Group, reckons that the immediate aftermath of the transition period will mark the high point in how closely the UK tacks to EU rules. Rahman believes that a zero tariff, zero quotas deal will mean free but not frictionless trade and that the direction of travel will be toward more friction.
Rahman also highlighted that Britain might lower food import standards to secure a deal with Washington, especially as the UK Prime Minister and his government are not well liked amongst the incoming Biden administration due to past comments. Something that could cause friction within the Conservative party and with the EU and its food standards.
This could all consequently lead to squabbling happening on a daily basis with the EU, but as attitudes cool and time passes on, relations could well turn to something like normalcy. The UK is likely to end up like Norway, with its ear to the door of meetings, to see where the EU might be going. Indeed, the UK has already started training civil servants in diplomatic relations with the EU for after Brexit, and the EU is using its new embassy in Westminster for intelligence gathering.
Of course, a deal has to be reached first.