Boris Johnson signs Brexit trade deal with EU
Jonathan Powell, who was also chief UK negotiator in Northern Ireland from 1997-2007, raged he had “never seen a British government perform worse than they did in the four years of negotiations that concluded with the Christmas Eve Brexit agreement. He said in terms of the negotiating strategy employed by the UK, “it is an object lesson in how not to do it”, “adding it is worth standing back and looking at what we can learn from the debacle”. Mr Powell then outlined “five principle reasons” as to why the UK has failed in Brexit negotiations with the EU.
He wrote for Politico: “We massively overestimated the strength of our negotiating position. It is true we are equally sovereign as the EU, but we are not sovereign equals.
“They are much larger, and we depend on them much more for trade than they do on us.
“That is why we have had to back down every step of the way, accepting EU insistence that we agree the divorce agreement first, putting a trade border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, accepting a single legal treaty and finally Boris Johnson caving in just before the end-of-year deadline.
“The same disparity of strength exists with the U.S., and we should bear that in mind during trade negotiations with Washington.”
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Mr Powell said Britain had triggered Article 50 “before we were ready”, meaning “we constantly found ourselves facing a self-inflicted deadline by which we had to concede or face severe economic and political costs”.
The former Downing Street Chief of Staff said: “Second, we fired the starting gun before we had worked out our own position, with the result that we spent the first two years negotiating with ourselves while EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier’s clock was ticking.
“Triggering Article 50 — the legal mechanism that kicked off a time-limited exit process — before we were ready meant we constantly found ourselves facing a self-inflicted deadline by which we had to concede or face severe economic and political costs.
“We should have waited until we knew what we wanted and only then pulled the trigger rather than blundering in without knowing our desired endpoint. This was not the fault of the negotiators but of their political leaders.”
He then said it was an error to prioritise the “principles of sovereignty over economic interests”, and accused the UK of “fighting (and losing) overfishing” and making the mistake of not paying enough attention to the economic significance of the services sector.
Mr Powell continued: “Third, we prioritised principles of sovereignty over economic interests and put defensive steps protecting a theoretical concept we don’t actually want to use ahead of practical benefits.
“Sovereignty is a nebulous concept — as the newly-published assessment by the “Star Chamber” of the European Research Group of pro-Brexit Tories unconsciously demonstrates in distinguishing between practical and theoretical sovereignty.
“In any international agreement, from the NATO treaty to the Good Friday Agreement, a state limits its sovereignty, but it usually does so in return for practical benefits.
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He added: “With this agreement with the EU, we have done the opposite. We have defended the theoretical possibility of doing things we don’t actually want to do, like lower our environmental standards or support failing industries, in return for giving up measures that would increase our prosperity.
“So we have spent the last weeks fighting (and losing) overfishing, which represents 0.1 percent of our economy while accepting that services, which represents 80 percent of our economy and where we have a competitive advantage, is excluded from the agreement. W
“We have therefore ended up with a free-trade agreement which is worse in substantive terms than many others the EU has recently concluded, and we have certainly not secured “no non-tariff barriers,” as Boris Johnson has claimed.”
Tony Blair’s former chief aide then claimed the UK “wilfully destroyed the EU’s trust” over the steps taken to override key elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement, a move he claimed backfired on Downing Street.
Mr Powell wrote: “We willfully destroyed the EU’s trust in our commitment to implement what we had already agreed by threatening to unilaterally renege on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“No. 10 reportedly thought they could provoke a crisis and thereby give themselves the whip hand as the EU panicked. Instead, the EU kept calmly ploughing on and achieved its objectives while we wasted time on silly tactical games.
“We were forced to back down before we could sign the FTA, so we made no substantive gain, but the price will be paid in the future as we try to negotiate further agreements with the EU on financial services and justice and home affairs issues in the absence of trust.”
Finally, “and most unforgivably”, he accused Britain of never having a strategic plan for the negotiations with Brussels.
He concluded: “It is a strange thing — you would never enter into a military or political campaign without a strategy — but the Government seemed to think it was alright to turn up for these talks and hope things would work out.
“As a result, we were constantly reacting to EU positions throughout and even agreed to negotiate from an EU text rather than a UK one. Unsurprisingly, the agreement ended up being mostly what the EU wanted.”
In a final brutal swipe, Mr Powell warned: “It is worth learning from these failures in negotiation strategy because we are embarking on a series of trade negotiations with countries around the world.
“If we want to do more than simply replicate existing agreements those countries have with the EU, we are going to have to do a lot better.
“And if we think the Brexit negotiations with the EU itself are over, we are about to be sadly disappointed.
“We are at the beginning of what will be decades of permanent negotiation with our much larger and more powerful neighbour. We do not want our Government to make the same mistakes again or we will all pay for it.”
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