What’s the big deal?

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In just over 130 days, what kind of trade deal we have is going to be of crucial importance.
Photo credit: John Cameron

Does the mere phrase ‘trade deal’ make you want to scream? It’s not surprising. The government’s disingenuous drivel about being tough on the EU and getting world beating deals is enough to make anyone want to run a mile. And trade deals may seem to be unrelated to anything in our daily lives. But with just over 130 days until the end of the transition period, trade deals – or the lack of them – are about to become very relevant to all of us.  

So what’s the big deal about trade deals?

A trade deal is a bit like a car boot sale or selling stuff on Gumtree. If I’ve got something to sell – toys, clothes, tools, paint, cars or whatever – I can sell it pretty much anywhere in the UK I can find customers. I don’t have to prove it’s made in Sussex to be able to sell it in Eastbourne, Leeds or London. Nor do I have to pay the buyers in London to let me sell it on London turf. Nor do I have to prove that what I’m selling there matches the quality and standards Londoners, the Welsh or the Scots require. It’s just taken for granted that they do. Why? Because on this island, we trade in our own internal market.

So any trade deal that lets me do that outside the UK, and buy and sell, just like I do at home has to be great. No bureaucracy, no hoops, no technical barriers (such as saying only red car handles can be sold in Manchester and yellow ones in Newcastle). All I have to do is treat my customers – trade partners – like I do my customers down the road. And that is precisely what we did in the EU.

The looming US threat

The USA has been trying to get its own trade deal with the EU to enjoy free, unfettered access to the EU market. But it comes a cropper because it has lower environmental, animal husbandry and technical standards than those in the EU. For example, it allows hundreds of pesticides to be used on food we eat that the EU (and the UK) have banned, as the scientific evidence indicated that they were bad for human health and for biodiversity.

Now we’re out of the EU, the US wants the UK to accept its standards across the board instead of EU ones as part of a broad ‘trade deal’ where the US, not the EU, sets the terms. 

Why should we accept US demands and standards? They are not always equivalent to or as good as those we set with the EU. The UK has become so desperate for trade deals with anyone because it left the EU and abandoned the trade deals that the EU negotiated on our behalf based on what we, and our EU partners, wanted. 

Brexit consequences

We lost all that when the government took us out of the EU. As a result, we can’t sell either in the EU or anywhere in the world like we do inside the UK: we are not part of a world internal market. Nor are we part of the EU’s single market any more.

We can’t up sticks and set up shop in any other EU state like we did before when there was mutual recognition of qualifications and standards because we were all together in the EU. Our standards and qualifications aren’t automatically recognised as equivalent to those we set when we were in the EU. 

Trade also depends on lorries being able to transport goods across the EU. Thanks to the creation of the single market, drivers are currently able to stop and pick up goods en route. When transition ends, this is extremely unlikely to continue. Far from cutting red tape, the government is reintroducing the kind of bureaucratic form-filling typical of pre-single market days. That is also why it is building lorry parks and reintroducing contraflows in Kent.  

We are up a gum tree without a paddle. And our government put us there. Why? We’ve all heard ministers cynically pretending that we face a better future outside the EU. Fact is, we don’t. We run the risk of being conned again if we fall for that line again.

What can you do?

If the A-Level fiasco has taught us anything, it’s don’t be conned. Check the facts and, when they reek, protest and demand fairness and honesty. And if and when some ‘trade deal’ emerges, demand to see it. Demand to have it explained. And let’s demand that we have the chance to decide whether it’s good enough.

There is no reason why we should settle for anything worse than what we had in the EU. There’s every reason, in view of Covid-19 and the worst recession for 300 years, to insist on better. And it’s the government’s job to protect us, not destroy us and the future of our younger generations. That responsibility is taken seriously by our EU partners where their own people are concerned. We deserve the same – or better.

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