Brexit deal needed at bad time for global trade

An agreement is yet to be reached even though Britain is due to leave the European Union in less than six months, and there are mounting calls for a second referendum

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 October, 2018, 7:21pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 October, 2018, 10:43pm

There are less than six months to go before Britain leaves the European Union, but talks between the two sides on a Brexit deal are deadlocked. The uncertainty caused by this impasse is a cause for concern, especially at a time when the world is grappling with a deepening trade war between the United States and China.

British Prime Minister Theresa May called for unity at her Conservative Party’s conference this week and expressed confidence in a deal being done. But she admitted negotiations with the EU are in the toughest phase. She has pinned her hopes on the so-called Chequers deal, named after her official country retreat. The plan would involve Britain keeping close links with the EU, including free trade for goods and a new customs agreement to remove the need for border checks and controls. But the proposal has been rejected by hardline supporters of Brexit within her own party who oppose keeping so many EU laws and regulations in place. The plan prompted the resignation of both foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who described it as “an outrage”, and Brexit secretary David Davis. More importantly, the Chequers deal has been given short shrift by the EU, which fears it would undermine the freedoms at the core of the institution and give British businesses a competitive advantage over their European rivals.

UK’s May tries to unite fractured party at ‘toughest phase’ of Brexit talks

Meanwhile, calls in Britain for another referendum, possibly on the form Brexit should take, are growing. Certainly, the position has changed since the original, narrow vote in favour of leaving the EU in 2016. There is a much greater appreciation of the complexities of Brexit – and the risks. A referendum may be needed to get a deal over the line but, as the clock ticks down, with Britain due to depart on March 29, the prospect of no deal being reached is a real one.

A failure to agree a deal would not be in the interests of either side. Indeed, it could cause serious trade disruption. Every effort is needed to find common ground and to reach an agreement that will place Britain’s relationship with the EU on a firm footing. Despite the rhetoric, both sides are working on changes to their proposals which will, hopefully, lead to a deal. The certainty this would bring is much needed at a time of turbulence for global trade.