Sir Ivan Rogers Plays Cassandra Again, Warns of Likely 2020 Brexit Trade Negotiations Train Wreck
As you may wind up seeing tomorrow, I am bogged down in something that is both appalling and ridiculous, so forgive me for giving short shrift to another on of Sir Ivan Rogers’ well-reasoned, if dire, takes on the state of Brexit.
I’ve taken the liberty of posting his text in full; you can also read it at the University of Glasgow website, where he delivered his remarks yesterday.
The big message of Sir Ivan’s speech is that Boris ohnson, who Sir Ivan assumes will win in December and get his Brexit pact approved, is making a Theresa-May-level blunder by having repeatedly committed to getting a Brexit trade deal done by the end of 2020, when the transition period expires. Experts have repeatedly tried disabusing Johnnson of this notion, pointed out that a pretty straightforward trade deal with Canada took seven years to negotiate and another year to obtain conditional approval. More recently, the EU slapped down Johnson’s claims, saying by the end of 2020 there would either be no deal or a bare-bones agreement. We’ve pointed out repeatedly that anyone who needs a deal done in haste winds up making concessions to the party that isn’t time pressured. And Sir Ivan agrees:
Put crudely, the EU will feel that, in the time available, rather little serious can get done and will think that is no bad thing as it can fully exploit UK desperation to get something over the new line.
Why not take advantage of yet another Prime Minister who has unwisely boxed himself in?
Sir Ivan also contends that there is a real risk that talks would break down.
Sir Ivan also makes a point that we’ve stressed from time to time, but oddly has been neglected in most press coverage and what passes for analysis: that services deals take longer than trade deals do. So it’s well-nigh impossible for the UK to cinch a pact that would cover its critically important services sector, meaning the City of London. And more subtly, a lot of manufacturing has services bundled with the product, so not having a services agreement in place would also hurt some goods sectors.
Recall that the UK could seek a one-time one or two year extension by June 2020.
Sir Ivan’s argument is that even if Johnson could talk his way out of the political equivalent of pledging his first born to his “EU deal in 2020” promise, Johnson is very unlikely to realize he has a huge timetable problem until after he’s gone past the point of no return.
Sir Ivan also points out that Johnson isn’t concerned when he should be about a sketchy agreement with the EU. Johnson and his allies really believe their fantasy of needing to get away from meanie EU. The problem is that quite a few people did the trade math shortly after Brexit. It verges on implausible that there will be enough demand from the rest of the world to replace the lost/diminished EU trade if the UK goes down this radical path. And that’s before you get to considerable transition costs.
This is a very colorful speech, particularly when Sir Ivan excoriates the Government, for instance, “diplomatic amateurism dressed up domestically as boldness and decisiveness”. He also came close to accusing Johnson of deliberately lying about what’s in store…which after the red NHS bus, should hardly come as a surprise. Johnson fibbing is virtually a daily event, such as his latest howler, that the his new Government would hire 50,000 more NHS nurses. But Sir Ivan’s point is the Brexit lies are of vastly greater consequence.