The biggest positive of the Brexit deal, entered into by the European Union (EU) and Britain after years of tough negotiations, is that it is better than no deal. There was a final deadline of December 31 and failure to clinch the deal would have created serious trade problems, economic chaos and political repercussions. Britain, and its present government, wanted to show that it gained from Brexit, but the EU was determined not to give anything away that would encourage other members to leave the union. This contradiction and the complexities of politics delayed the accord. The deal needs to be ratified this week by the British parliament, and by the European Union later, and probably it was taken to the brink so that there is not enough time to study its provisions. The agreement has a 1,250-page text of fine legal print which defies easy examination. The brinkmanship may also have been a tactic used by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to claim credit for snatching a deal in a difficult situation.
The agreement is basically on tariffs and free trade and mainly concerns goods. Services, which account for the major part of the British economy, are not covered. It provides a roadmap for EU-UK relations after Britain leaves the single market and customs union, but the details are not clear. Britain will have tariff-free access to Europe’s market but will have to abide by the EU’s rules on competition and environment. Britain will have to check some of its plans, like the idea to further develop London’s financial services sector. An important issue that defied resolution till the last minute was the fishing rights of European fishermen off the British coast but that was settled with the granting of limited access during a transition period. People from one side can no longer move freely and live and work on the other side. While normally trade deals make trade easier, this deal seeks to regulate it. Moreover, due to Brexit, Northern Ireland will have a different relationship with the EU than the UK
Orderly implementation of the deal will be a major challenge, and it is likely that the provisions may be interpreted differently by both sides. Boris Johnson has rhetorically said that “we have taken back control of our destiny’’, but a judgement will have to wait. It is estimated that Britain will lose 4% of its GDP and a fall in per capita income over the next 15 years. Scotland may have a rethink on its status in the UK. Most importantly, there are challenges like the climate crisis and the pandemic which are bound to change the global situation and attitudes in the coming years, and so the impact of the deal may also change.