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FROM A MILLION TO ONE TO 50:50

Last year we were watching a triumphant Boris Johnson sweep to victory in the General Election on the promise that he would “get Brexit done”. Believing that Boris would finally deliver a great deal (after all the chances of no-deal he told us were a million to one against) the country was enthused. House prices went up, protest marches and Nigel Farage disappeared: all was well with the world. Then the Coronavirus struck and the topic of Brexit was relegated to “other news”. Sadly, however, twelve months on, and only days before the end of the “Transition Period”, Brexit is back on the front pages. The UK and EU remain locked in “difficult” discussions with both sides expressing the view that the other side needs to compromise significantly and that a no-deal scenario is now the most likely one while at the same time expressing optimism that a deal might still be within their grasp.


Not surprisingly voters and commentators alike are left with the view that its 50:50 – a toss-up. Perhaps we would be better to have drawn straws or flipped a coin. At least then we could have resolved it earlier and given businesses a chance to plan. Indeed, there’s something odd about the government running a TV advertising campaign telling businesses to prepare, while at the same time being unable to tell them what it is that they are supposed to be preparing for.


Apparently the three issues at the heart of the deadlock are the same as have been there for months: fishing, “level playing field” and dispute resolution. If we were forced to apply analysis to the situation it would seem likely that fishing is the one area in which the UK can actually give something up, whereas level playing field is in the gift of the EU. There are a number of well-trodden, established mechanisms for resolving disputes in trade (and other) international agreements, so that is presumably the one area where both sides could compromise.


However, and presumably we are not the only ones thinking this, since these have been the same issues for months, it is unlikely that some genius in one of the negotiating teams comes up with a last-minute gem of an idea to solve them. In which case rather than actually “going the last mile” and carrying on tough negotiations the teams are probably just sitting round a table staring at each other waiting for the other to blink first. And, on the basis that negotiators like to be employed, they will keep this up for as long as possible.


If we were forced to express a view on the outcome, it would be that, as the currency market suggests, the UK will give in on fishing, the EU will relent on level playing field and the mechanism for resolving disputes will soon become a specialist subject for a small number of people and other than them, no-one will remember who they are or what it is called…..until the first argument about the shape of British flounders.

In the meantime – can’t we just toss the coin and get on with it?

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