Trade Deals Poised To Hold Up Brexit


If you’ve begun to grow a little bit weary of Brexit news and updates, you certainly aren’t alone. While many in the UK have concerns about how the impending departure from the European Union will affect them directly, this has become a sort of never-ending news cycle that never actually seems to get anywhere. It can be difficult to recall the latest updates or recognise the true significance of recent comments by key figures – not because of complexity, but because of density.

BBC has a sort of comprehensive Brexit guide going, reaching all the way back to the beginning of the process, and it’s actually a nice reference even if you’ve managed to stay on top of everything fairly well. Here though, I’m going to discuss one of the most recent developments taking place, which is that trade deal negotiation appears to be poised to hold up the actual Brexit.

This very notion might seem counterintuitive. At its core, Brexit is a fundamental shift in trade and immigration policies, and it was voted for over a year ago (albeit by a majority that could best be described as semi-enthusiastic). It would seem, particularly to an outsider, like trade deals or concepts must have been in place. However, this is when it bears remembering that the Brexit more or less shocked the world. Local and international news outlets were stunned; pundits scrambled to explain the outcome of the referendum. Writing on the idea that even betting firms lost big on Brexit, one article put it best, saying this decision was one few saw as a reality, let alone an eventuality.

That sort of thinking seemed to apply to the masses, but it’s now starting to become apparent that it also applied to the actual folks in government who were in favour of Brexit, not to mention other government officials around the EU. Any decision of this magnitude is sure to result in a period of uncertainty, but recent policy-making debates and discussions seem to indicate a degree of unpreparedness that is troubling, to say the least.

After seemingly implying that she might initiate a transition period away from the EU without securing European trade deadlines, prime minister Theresa May only recently assured parliament of the opposite. Feeling the pressure from UK-based businesses worried that their futures are being tossed blindly into the dark, May has at last signalled that there will be no transition period unless the UK manages to make a deal with the EU regarding the future trade relationship. That sort of declaration is a first from May, and should be reassuring to both business owners and those who are generally concerned about how an uncertain EU-UK trade relationship could affect the broader economy.

It also means, however, that for the meantime this sort of trade deal appears poised to hold up the formal Brexit process. While it’s clear that the sensible thing to do is to establish trade agreements before the Brexit is completed, it’s equally obvious that this is easier said than done. A recent poll indicated that a large majority of the British public thinks negotiations are going poorly where trade agreements are concerned. Some have suggested that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is the only key figure attempting to make realistic progress in negotiations.

Both of those indications cast May’s handling of the pre-transition process in a fairly negative light and seem to make it clear that no EU deal is imminent. If we’re to trust May’s recent remarks, that means that by extension the Brexit itself may not be as imminent as we thought a month or two ago.