By Mark Williams, chief executive, British Egg Industry Council
The stand off between the UK and the EU has come to an end, for now at least. With the UK and EU agreeing to re-establish talks to reach a trade deal. Brussels has extended an olive branch to the Prime Minister and the UK negotiating team, but what this will mean at the end of the process is still unclear. There is still significant ground to cover, and only a matter of weeks in which to do so. Both sides still have considerable disagreements to address, but both sides claim the political will is there to reach the necessary compromises to get this over the line.
The differences that led to a week long standoff and the Prime Minister telling the country to prepare to trade with the EU along ‘Australian’ style lines, or in other words a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, were in the areas of fishing rights, common standards for good and services, and governance. Fishing rights have always been a contentious issue for the UK, there were plenty of arguments over the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy while the UK was a member of the EU, so there was no reason to expect this not to remain a problem for both sides. The EU has accepted it will have less access to British waters but has proposed multi-annual mini deals for certain types of fish. The UK has offered a 3-year long transition period for access to British waters, with the quota adjusting over time – thus giving both British and continental fishing boats time to adjust.
In terms of governance and common standards however, the UK has been clear that it would only agree to commitments that are usual in EU trade deals with countries such as Canada – the EU up until now has been dismissive of a trade deal with the UK along the lines of what it has with Canada. The Canada-style trading relationship was something that Theresa May’s Government dismissed out of hand as an option to even pursue, but it has always been popular with both many moderate and hard-line Brexiteer MPs, however. Wherever this is something closer to what the UK may end up with is a distinct possibility. The EU has agreed that the European Court of Justice will have no role in the UK going forward. However, both sides have proposed that a joint panel could be set up, that could limit access to its market if they suspected unfair competition – this wouldn’t legally prevent the UK from concluding trade deals around the world, if it needed to deviate from these standards, something that the UK Government is almost certain to be content with.
What seems to be taking shape or at least what has been suggested is a set of joint committees or panels, that would look at issues on an annual or an ad-hoc basis, rather than a set of legally binding agreements that would require certain aspects of UK policy or decisions to be under the auspices of EU institutions. What is clear is that the EU is willing to reach a compromise, the opposite to what the Prime Minister said only several weeks ago. It must be emphasised however, that the EU will not reach an agreement with the UK at any price, and that ultimately the EU will protect the integrity of the Single Market, and the political cohesion of the European project, even if this comes at an economic cost for them. This olive branch should not be rejected, and every effort needs to be made to reach an agreement, on what seems to be, on the surface, are pragmatic and reasonable compromises.
Our farmers and producers need access to the EU market, the number of free trade deals the UK might agree around the world won’t come close to compensating for its loss. We cannot allow the Prime Minister’s diplomatic brinkmanship to jeopardise the livelihoods those who work so hard to produce the nation’s food. The British Egg Industry Council stands shoulder to shoulder with our partners across farming and agriculture, and adds our voice to the collective call for common sense and pragmatism to prevail, in the interest of not just our industry, but the future of British farming and our consumers.