Can UK get 'super Canada-plus' trade deal with EU by end of 2020?
Boris Johnson declared Britain can have a “super Canada-plus” free trade agreement with the EU and by the end of 2020 and that “there is no need” for political alignment.
Johnson issued the statement on Twitter on Sunday afternoon. Many believe it was part of a behind-the-scenes pact with the Brexit party that led to Nigel Farage’s party standing down 317 candidates in the election, though this has been denied.
Johnson’s words are a statement of intent, but his ambition could be thwarted be some unknowns – an unfavourable election result, negotiation challenges and time.
Time is his most pressing concern. Trade talks cannot legally begin until the UK leaves the EU, which is currently scheduled for 31 January. Because the scheduled transition period expires at the end of December 2020, this leaves just 11 months to negotiate a deal that Canada took seven years to complete. Theresa May had originally envisaged talks talking two years. Experts say that on average, it takes 48 months to negotiate any trade deal.
Negotiations will also not start until both sides have a clear idea what their objectives are. The EU follows a strict 33-stage process (pdf) in trade deals starting with consultations, likely to take months, over the impact of a likely deal. The final deal will also have to be ratified by each parliament, again a process that could shave vital months off the real deadline for a Johnson exit by December 2020. The 1,600-page Canada deal was signed on October 2016 but not ratified by the last member state until September 2017.
The UK will want a zero-tariff deal allowing the free flow of goods to and from the UK and the EU.
However, this comes with strings attached. As Sam Lowe, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform, said this “will be dependent on the UK complying with EU level playing field demands on state aid, the environment and labour rights”.
The EU does not want a low-tax, lightly regulated Singapore-on-Thames competitor across the channel. It is also not in a rush. Trade expert David Henig says: “I don’t think the EU could move that quickly because they have not done this kind of thing before and I am not sure we should either as we are setting trade terms for decades.”
Another issue for Johnson will be domestic politics. May’s deal provided for an “association agreement” with deals on security and counter-terrorism as well as as science and education. Would Johnson abandon these just to get a Canada deal?
It is possible to get a free trade deal by the end of 2020 but highly unlikely.