Donald Trump is right.
On Monday, the President weighed in on the recently agreed Brexit Deal, claiming it was “a great deal for the EU”, whilst adding that “right now if you look at the deal they [UK] may not be able to trade with the US.” Members from all sides of the House of Commons have already condemned the deal.
Reports suggest that nearly 100 Conservative MPs are set to vote against the deal and with the DUP having also withdrawn support for the Prime Minister’s proposals, it seems increasingly impossible that the plan will pass through a meaningful vote in Parliament. Discontent surrounding the deal will certainly not have been eased following President Trump’s comments, which highlight many fundamental issues with the proposals.
One of the most convincing arguments presented by the leave side during the referendum in 2016 was the prospect of being able to negotiate new and exciting free trade agreements with countries outside the EU. The push for a ‘global Britain’ compelled many to vote to leave the European Union, and under current proposals, this would not be possible.
According to the deal negotiated by Theresa May, the UK would remain in a customs union with the EU during a transition period expected to last until December 2020. However, the period could be extended almost indefinitely if the UK is unable to negotiate a long-term agreement with the EU, something which would prevent the UK from striking comprehensive free trade agreements with other countries around the world.
In response to Trump’s comments, cabinet minister David Lidington jumped to defend the deal, claiming that negotiating a trade deal with the US was “always going to be a challenge”, whilst Downing Street made clear that reaching a trade deal with the US following Brexit remained a priority.
Despite these attempts to play down fears over the deal, the possibility of the UK reaching trade agreements with other nations, whilst remaining in a customs union with the EU, is simply not a possibility. Both sides have claimed that remaining in a customs union with the EU during a transition period was the most practical way to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
However, during the transition period, the UK would still be subject to tariffs and regulatory standards imposed on goods imported into the EU, subsequently meaning that a trade arrangement with the US would be put on hold, perhaps for the foreseeable future.
These concerns have also been echoed by Australia, who have also insisted that if the current deal is implemented, the UK would not be able to negotiate a trading agreement with them. Writing in The Spectator last month, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott condemned Mrs May’s attempts to strike a deal at any cost. Abbott criticised the UK's negotiating approach, saying it was a tragedy that “the country that did the most to bring democracy into the modern world might yet throw away the chance to take charge of its own destiny.” It appears that the deal would do exactly that.
Despite the Prime Minister’s claims that this is a deal “in the national interest” and one that delivers on the referendum result, it is clear that it does the exact opposite. Facing mutiny from her own backbenchers, as well as losing the support of the DUP, on which her government is reliant, the odds look stacked against Theresa May.
It is highly unlikely that the deal will pass through the meaningful vote on December 11th and what might happen following that scenario remains unclear.
But make no mistake: under the current proposals, any prospect of a ‘global Britain’ seeking to expand and take advantage of new trade agreements, would be dead and buried.