The Daily Telegraph
Relations can be reset at last as the EU finds a man with whom it can do business
The EU handed Rishi Sunak a win with his new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland because it wants to bring Britain closer. In the Prime Minister, Ursula von der Leyen thinks she has found a man with whom the EU can do business.
The UK-EU trade deal is seen as bare bones. Despite creating a free trade area for goods, it also erected new trade barriers after Brexit.
British mussels and oyster farmers can no longer export live bivalve molluscs to French, Dutch, Belgian or Spanish restaurants, for example.
Britain saw that as a price worth paying for winning back sovereignty and breaking free of Brussels’s orbit of rules and regulations. But it has had a deleterious effect on trade between the UK and its major trading partner.
The EU knows that Mr Sunak believes Europe will be important in his drive to unlock stagnant economic growth. And it sees the Windsor Framework as a first step to rebuilding a closer trading relationship with the UK, which will benefit European businesses during the cost of living crisis.
It also puts to bed the threat of an economically damaging UK-EU trade war triggered by Britain carrying out its threats to tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Chalked up against that eventual prize, why wouldn’t Brussels turn a blind eye to strict rules for trees, holidaying pets and the great British banger? A closer trading relationship implies closer ties to the EU’S rules.
At this stage, there is no expectation of a return to the Single Market and Customs Union, but Brussels always has its eye on the long game.
The Ukraine war also bought political space for the deal to be struck.
With Putin’s illegal war raging in Europe, technical squabbles over trade and customs red tape faded in importance to a united Western front against Russia. The UK and EU worked well together on sanctions against
‘Getting this deal done will help to reset relations with EU member states, and France in particular’
Moscow and European diplomats whisper hopefully that Britain is back on the world stage after the years of Brexit isolation.
There is already optimistic talk of new UK-EU security deals and the rejected idea of a treaty governing foreign policy co-operation being resurrected.
Getting this deal done will help to reset relations with EU member states, and France in particular, which will be vital to get new agreements over the line. The ardently pro-eu Emmanuel Macron once relished his role as Brussels’s bad cop during the Brexit negotiations. He needed Brexit to be shown to be a painful error to fend off the challenge of the Eurosceptic Marine Le Pen in last April’s presidential elections.
Relations were so strained that British and French navy boats shadowed each other off the coast of Jersey as a dispute over post-brexit fishing rights flared.
But now, as shown by his invitation to the UK to join the European Political Community summit last year, Mr Macron is in a forgiving mood.
The new deal makes a reset in relations that will be crowned by the King’s visit to France, his first state visit abroad since becoming monarch.
If an Anglo-french summit in March results in a deal over small boats crossing the Channel, the seed for that agreement was planted in Windsor.
Mr Sunak was able to deliver the new Brexit deal in large part because he was not Boris Johnson.
Brussels was willing to offer the Prime Minister concessions that were not on the table for his predecessor.
The EU did not trust Mr Johnson, whom it saw as a liar willing to break international law and renege on treaty commitments made in 2019.
Brussels knew the deal faced a rough reception from Tory Brexiteers, not least Mr Johnson himself, and wanted to help Mr Sunak to get it over the line. That’s why Mrs von der Leyen made the trip to London and spared the Prime Minister from having to go cap in hand to Brussels for a Brexit deal like Mr Johnson and Theresa May.
The new Stormont brake and the repatriation of tax and subsidy powers to London from Brussels are significant wins. Mrs von der Leyen also signalled that Brussels would soon drop its block on the UK’S associate membership of the £81billion Horizon research programme.
It could be a harbinger of future partnerships and more deals to come.