“The departure of Britain is for the European Union.
The biggest setback since its establishment”
For the British, Christmas Eve 2020 is destined to go down in history. Most families could not get together due to the epidemic prevention and blockade, but they also received what Prime Minister Johnson called the “best Christmas gift package”.
At 3:00 p.m. London time on December 24, European Commission President von der Leyen held a press conference at EU headquarters and announced that the post-Brexit trade agreement was officially concluded. Twenty minutes later, Boris Johnson also announced the news at the Prime Minister’s Office in Downing Street, London.
On the night of January 31, 2020, as the flag of the European Union slowly fell across the UK, the United Kingdom officially terminated its membership in the EU for nearly half a century.
The two sides then entered an 11-month “transition period”. Until December 31, all existing trade, people exchanges, laws and rules between Britain and Europe will remain unchanged, with a view that the two governments can reach (or fail to reach) specific agreements and arrangements on future trade and other matters within this period.
However, a sudden coronavirus epidemic has swept the world. Since March, the blockades of various countries have arrived one after another. Barnier, the chief negotiator of the European Union, has been infected with the coronavirus quarantine.
In April, British Prime Minister Johnson was hospitalized with severe coronavirus, and negotiations between Britain and Europe have been suspended.
The countdown pendulum of the Brexit agreement will not stop because of the spread of the epidemic. If Britain and Europe fail to reach an agreement on time, the two sides must also face the huge chaos and impact of Britain’s no-deal Brexit.
Since December, the exchange rate of the pound has been like a roller coaster, which is the response of the international market at the countdown time. Fortunately, there was no danger in the end.
After four and a half years of twists and turns and difficult negotiations, the two sides almost put forward the more than 1,200 pages of the agreement with a final whistle.
Northern Ireland border, fisheries and “fair competition”
This agreement between Britain and the European Union is fundamentally different from all the international trade agreements signed by mankind over the past half century.
With the deepening of trade globalization, almost all trade agreements in the past were “additional”, whether bilateral or multilateral, the content is how to expand openness and reduce barriers, and the purpose is also how to do more trade on the existing basis.
The agreement between Britain and Europe, on the other hand, is a separation agreement, which is “subtraction”, the purpose of which is to rebuild the already zero barrier of trade, but at the same time avoid causing trouble caused by building too high.
Britain has never participated in the integration of monetary and border control in the EU. But for nearly half a century, from the European Community to the European Union, Britain has indeed fully integrated into the European trade integration process.
Every day, there is a continuous flow of goods across the English Channel and Ireland’s land border, shuttled between Britain and other EU member states.
By 2019, these trades accounted for 43 percent of UK exports and 51 percent of imports. Britain and Europe do not need any customs declaration documents, pay any customs duties, and do not bear any administrative costs due to different standards.
Of course, Britain has also sacrificed its ability to set tariffs alone. It cannot enter into any trade agreement with any foreign country outside the EU, can not independently formulate rules and standards that are more favorable to its own industries, and must accept the final jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice on the corresponding disputes.
Therefore, after Brexit, the biggest difficulty of this largest separation agreement in modern history naturally falls in the field of trade. The British side wants to get the lowest trade threshold and completes the split in the “softest” way.
The EU side knows that even if British and European trade can be free of tariffs, because the UK is free to formulate its own product and trade rules and extraterritorial tariffs in the future, if some barriers are not erected, Britain will tear a huge gap from the EU, a trading group with zero internal but highly protected externally. China profits, which undermines the principle of “fair competition” between Britain and Europe.
For example, the issue of the Northern Ireland border can neither build posts and checkpoints on the sensitive border line, which has been bloody for more than half a century, but also allow the movement of goods in two countries belonging to the European Union and the United Kingdom, without leading to a sovereign division between Northern Ireland and the island of Great Britain.
This “impossible triangle” was the dead end of the negotiations from the beginning, and even directly led to the collapse of Theresa May’s government.
However, Johnson’s luck is better than his predecessor May.
The general election victory at the end of 2019 gave him a stable parliamentary majority without the support of Northern Ireland’s allies, and he finally decided to choose the first two corners in the above-mentioned “impossible triangle”, that is, the Northern Ireland border does not need to be re-opened.
Stop. Northern Ireland is in fact retained in the EU’s single market, but goods from Northern Ireland will be able to land on the island of Great Britain through a series of complex customs declaration, sampling, trust list and other systems. This “temporary arrangement” will expire and be subject to re-examination by all parties after four years. At the same time, the British government promised to withdraw the Internal Markets Act, which had caused a great uproar, temporarily sacrificing the interests of the Northern Ireland Unitarians. This big dispute can be regarded as a pause button and left to be resolved in the future.
Since December 2020, the two sides have started to pull saws on the issue of fisheries sovereignty. Unlike Northern Ireland, which is mainly a contradiction within the United Kingdom, fishing output in the exclusive economic zone of the United Kingdom, although it accounts for only 0.04% of the British gross domestic product (GDP), it is a matter of sovereignty for the island country of the United Kingdom.
Most of the British coastal fishermen’s families are die-hard supporters of Brexit and the Conservative Party. They have long hated the large fishing boats of large European Union companies in the exclusive economic zone of the United Kingdom, but they have no way to resist under the EU system.
This time, the British government’s goal of negotiations is to reduce the EU’s catch in the exclusive economic waters of the United Kingdom by 80% within the next three years, while the EU side only agreed to reduce it by 18% and demand a 15-year grace period.
Once this figure was exposed, British public opinion was in an uproar, angrily denouncing the EU’s unreasonable position, completely ignoring British sovereignty and international law after the separation.
Eventually, the two sides agreed to reduce the catch of the EU side by 25% over the next five and a half years, after which the UK has the right to set its own catch quota. The EU has also waived the right to impose punitive tariffs on other British industries in the event of disputes over future catches.
It is worth mentioning that until the last minute of the negotiations, the negotiators of the British and Europe held a list detailing hundreds of fish, shrimp and crab varieties and catches, and sawing each other.
The fish swimming in the cold North Sea at that time almost led to the collapse of the negotiations that concern the future interests of hundreds of millions of people.
The biggest setback of the European Union
Brexit is certainly not just to fight for who can eat more cheap fish, but also a concept behind it, which is infinitely used by the media and politicians but is really difficult to explain – “sovereignty”.
In Johnson’s mouth, the Conservative government fulfilled its promise to the British people, and Britain withdrew from the European Union, thus regaining Britain’s sovereignty over borders, seas, laws, trade and customs.
The United Kingdom has saved hundreds of billions of pounds a year in EU membership fees; EU citizens will need to apply for a British visa to come to the UK to study, work and live in the UK; EU university students will have to pay several times the international tuition fees of local British students; the European Supreme Court will no longer have higher jurisdiction than the British courts, double Possible future trade and rule disputes will be sent to international arbitration institutions for dispute resolution (and international arbitration is the strength of British barristers).
More importantly, Britain can go to a wider world, freely negotiate new trade agreements with Commonwealth countries, the United States, China and other economies, and set tariffs independently without being subject to the high wall built by the European Union.
According to statistics, in the past 11 months alone, the United Kingdom has signed separate trade agreements with 58 non-EU economies, including Japan, South Korea, Canada, Mexico, Singapore and South Africa.
However, the “sovereignty” that Britain regains is not without a price. British citizens can only get 90 days of visa-free residence every 180 days when traveling to Europe (except Ireland). That is to say, there are no more old British people on Spain’s islands every winter to go south to escape the wind and snow, and their cats and dogs can’t pass without a “EU pet passport” as before.
It is necessary to be vaccinated and pay for a single valid certificate at the veterinary department; British universities are likely to face a serious shortage of EU students while losing a large amount of research funds from the EU; from now on, every ship, truck and aircraft between the UK and the EU have to go through forms and customs declarations and other administrative personnel.
Continue. And all of this is something that has disappeared for nearly half a century. Self-employed and small enterprises will inevitably experience a long time of incompetence in the face of these strange procedures.
And Britain’s departure is the biggest setback for the European Union since its establishment.
This is not only the loss of a member state that ranks among the top three in the EU in terms of population and economy, but also a challenge to the concept of supranational sovereign union such as the EU. After 70 years of practice, this concept has made almost a scorched Western Europe stand up from the ruins and expanded the European Union eastward at the turn of the century after the upheaval in Eastern Europe, thus rising to the pole of the world.
However, whether there is a boundary between this transfer of national sovereignty in the traditional sense and whether it can always be effective in the challenges of the long-term future will certainly trigger endless discussions above the temples and in the rivers and lakes.
In addition to the single market, the two supersovereign practices promoted by the European Union in the past 20 years, the United Kingdom has chosen not to participate in it early on, but the European debt crisis and refugee flows have caused great suffering to the EU.
During the European debt crisis, the top and latecommutable students could not compromise, and Western and Southeast Europe distrusted each other.
Italy, Greece, Bulgaria and other countries on the front line of the refugee flow were overburdened, and a large number of refugee camps caused serious social problems and even riots repeatedly. But the rich neighbors in Western Europe are closed, and money can support it, but people must not let it go.
In this COVID-19 epidemic, the EU countries have become a symphony orchestra that has not been rehearsed at all. Because epidemic prevention is the sovereign right of each country, EU headquarters is almost completely aphasia in the face of this urgent challenge, except for the later allocation of a “solidarity fund”.
How countries blockade, how to detect, how to track, and even close borders, open and close to whom, are completely different. Considering that there are no boundaries for the free movement of people within the Schengen Area, this policy insynchronization has caused EU countries to suffer.
In the next year, even if the epidemic does not continue to worsen, the vaccination arrangement and economic recovery plan alone will be a struggle for EU countries to balance interests, and may even become the fuse of the next time bomb.
In contrast to Johnson’s celebration of clenching his fists in front of the big screen of the office, European Commission President von der Leyen quoted Shakespeare’s line in Romeo and Juliet, “Fareparting is so sweet and sad” at the press conference to set the tone of the EU side’s attitude.
She also did not shy away from the word “sovereignty”, saying, “to me sovereignty means that we can work, study, travel and do business in 27 countries without obstacles, and can speak as a community and show our strength”.
However, it is worth pondering that after speaking those beautiful scenes in English, von der Leyen cut into her native German language to continue to speak. This time, her words are “Europe is ready, our future is in Europe”.