"What the EU needs after Brexit is that England spurs it on, stimulates it"

Boris Johnson in the House of Commons, London, January 22.
Boris Johnson in the House of Commons, London, January 22. JESSICA TAYLOR / AFP

On thought he was a acrobat, he turned out to be a political strategist. It is with a broad victory in the legislative elections of December 2019, where he took from Labor their strongholds of workers, that Boris Johnson is about to implement his promise: "Get Brexit done" ("Carry out Brexit").

We know the calendar: in less than a week, the United Kingdom will no longer be a member of the European Union (EU), even if it will remain subject to its rules until the end of the year; and at 1st January 2021, it will cease to benefit from a privileged access to the community market, in the absence of new partnership agreements which remain to be negotiated, or of an extension of the transition, but of which the British Prime Minister does not want to hear.

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For the past three years, we have constantly weighed the various possibilities available in London, in particular the "Canadian" option (a free trade agreement for goods, a partial opening of service markets) and the "Norwegian" option (full participation in the European market, in exchange for regulatory alignment and a contribution to the budget). But Sajid Javid, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has just said it bluntly: the United Kingdom will have its own trade and regulatory policies. He will not be a follower.

A new conflict with the Twenty-Seven is thus announced. On 8 January in London, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, warned that the condition for a free trade agreement without tariffs or quotas is broad regulatory alignment. The more the United Kingdom diverges from the EU, the more its market access will be restricted.

Narrow margin

The British position is not very surprising: it would be paradoxical, after having decided to "Regain control", as the brexiters proclaimed, to force themselves not to make use of this freedom. But Boris Johnson faces a triple contradiction.

The first is geopolitical: if London could hope to negotiate a host of free trade agreements in the pre-2016 multilateral world of policing, it would be much more difficult in the transactional world wanted by US President Donald Trump. In this world, the most important is strength. A market of 66 million inhabitants (against 450 million for the 27) does not give much …


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