Britain’s “Brexit” issue has been entangled for more than four years. Although the United Kingdom has legally left the EU at the end of January this year, it is still in a transitional period, and the future economic and trade relations between the two sides have not yet been finalized. Recently, the “Internal Market Act” proposed by the British government has caused further waves of the negotiation process.
According to the previous Brexit agreement reached by Britain and Europe, it is a transitional period before the end of 2020. If the two parties can reach a future relationship agreement during the transitional period, the agreement will be implemented after the transitional period. If no agreement is reached, in order to ensure the stability of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, the two sides will not set up barriers on the border between Northern Ireland and maintain the current status quo. However, according to the “Internal Market Act” recently submitted by the British Conservative Government, if Britain and Europe cannot reach an agreement during the transition period, the British government will have the power to unilaterally exercise border management rights, including Northern Ireland. From the content point of view, the bill clearly conflicts with the previous Brexit agreement, which caused a strong backlash from the EU.
The British government may throw out the bill for the following considerations: First, use the new bill as a bargaining chip to force the EU to make concessions in negotiations. In terms of time, the end of the transitional period at the end of the year is very close. Johnson has publicly stated that if an agreement cannot be reached before October 15, there will be a “no-deal Brexit”. Judging from the process of Brexit negotiations after Johnson came to power, the United Kingdom has repeatedly used the strategy of “do not hesitate to die and break the net” to show that it would rather “leave the EU without a deal” to prompt the EU to make concessions and achieve certain results. In addition, the Conservative Party substantially expanded its seats in the lower house of parliament in the last general election. Johnson’s ruling position has been consolidated and he has become more confident in his own negotiation strategy.
Second, the UK is trying to use a clear Brexit timetable to advance free trade negotiations with other economies. Since the Brexit referendum, the United Kingdom has been preparing for the “post-Brexit era”, taking “Global Britain” as a strategic goal, including trade negotiations with other economies, and has signed about 20 trade agreements. However, there are no major economies other than Japan, which has just finalized the agreement, and negotiations with the United States, Australia and other countries are still in progress. While the UK is still in the single big EU market, economic and trade agreements with other economies cannot take effect. Therefore, a real “Brexit” is a prerequisite for the UK to further open the markets of other economies. As the specific time is uncertain, this has affected the progress of relevant trade negotiations to a certain extent. The introduction of the “Internal Market Act”, at the risk of the breakdown of the Brexit negotiations, shows the UK’s determination to leave the single big market before the end of the year, thereby paving the way for other trade negotiations.
Third, the introduction of this bill may not be a deliberate consensus within the party. The current pressure of the British epidemic is still great, and the time for Brexit negotiations is tight, and the introduction of a new policy may not have sufficient time for discussion and demonstration. After the bill was introduced, many people in the Conservative Party have criticized it. Former Prime Minister Theresa May warned that this change could damage the “trust” of the UK and other countries in future trade agreements.
This problem can be very difficult. So far, the European Union has made serious diplomatic negotiations, stating that if the United Kingdom does not abandon this bill, it will appeal to the European Court of Justice and resolve it through legal means. If a lawsuit is brought, it will take time on the one hand, and the countdown has entered the end of the transition period, and there is not much time left. On the other hand, legal channels are also difficult to solve the problem. The European Court of Justice is an institution that defends EU law, but the United Kingdom is no longer a member of the European Union, and the European Court’s ruling will also put a question mark on the binding force of the United Kingdom. If the British government insists on violating the Brexit agreement, it will also not implement the European Court of Justice’s ruling.
The key point of the new bill is to weaken the EU’s trust in the UK, which will bring difficulties to other negotiations between the two parties in the future.
First, the probability that an agreement cannot be reached before the end of the year has greatly increased. Britain’s unilateral violation of the Brexit agreement has been difficult for the EU to accept. If the British government insists on the content of the new bill, and even the bill is passed into law in Parliament, it will undoubtedly cause stronger dissatisfaction in the EU. If the Johnson administration abandons this bill, it will be difficult for it to justify itself. Unless the EU makes major concessions on certain issues, but makes a compromise after it has lost trust in the British government, the EU will also face tremendous pressure.
Second, the end of this year may not be the deadline for negotiations. In the past four years or so, the so-called “deadline” has appeared many times. This is often the time node of the fierce game between the two sides, but in the end it has been extended in some way. This possibility cannot be ruled out this time. In the case of frustrated trust, although it is extremely difficult to reach a new agreement, the two parties may still extend the negotiation period in some form.
Third, the trajectory of Brexit is more difficult to predict. At the time of the Brexit referendum in June 2016, many people simply predicted the development trajectory of Brexit suspense in less than four years. Even now, it is difficult for us to draw a clear blueprint for the future Brexit. The introduction of the new British bill is a risky move, and the follow-up will test the wisdom of politicians from both Britain and Europe.