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Thu Feb 27, 2020, 07:13 AM

Brexit and the risks of economic nationalism

In talking about their future relationship with the UK, EU leaders may want to mind their language.


Though the British premier, Boris Johnson, says he ‘got Brexit done’ last month, the United Kingdom’s future economic relationship with the European Union remains undefined. Officials are ramping up to negotiate but reaching an agreement will be difficult. From a continental point of view, the UK is approaching the negotiations as if from another planet, as the chair of the European Parliament’s Brexit steering group, Guy Verhofstadt, has put it.

The negotiations present EU leaders with an under-appreciated, big-picture dilemma. At their heart will be the question of a ‘level playing field’. European officials say that the UK will have to adhere to the EU’s social, environmental, competition, and possibly even tax standards as a condition for broad and smooth access to the single market. But the British government completely rejects that demand. Its chief negotiator says ‘the point of the whole project’ is freedom for the UK to set its own (potentially lower) standards.

Nationalist thinking

The dilemma confronting the EU is that conditioning market access on UK agreement to this level playing field risks reinforcing nationalist economic thinking. And more such thinking is the last thing any EU leader, from the far left to the centre-right, wants to see. If too many more people come to believe that gains for other countries mean losses for their own, or that international markets force nations to race to the bottom on social standards, the European project—and even many other international economic institutions—will be in serious trouble. Nationalist instincts gave rise to the headache of Brexit in the first place, along with the victory in the United States of 2016’s other great free trade disruptor, Donald Trump.

The president’s approach to the renegotiation of his country’s North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico is telling about the sort of ideas that lead to demands for a level playing field. Trump, an avowed nationalist, criticised NAFTA for years as an unfair deal on which the US was purportedly out-negotiated. Now he promotes his new, more protectionist US-Mexico-Canada Agreement as including ‘unprecedented labor standards that will help level the playing field for [American] workers’. Trump seems to believe that weak labour laws (at least hitherto) have been giving Mexico an advantage in a zero-sum competition with the US. This is strikingly similar to the advantage European officials are suggesting the UK could gain outside the EU—hence their demands that it not drop below European standards.


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Reply Brexit and the risks of economic nationalism (Original post)
Celerity Feb 2020 OP
mwooldri Feb 2020 #1

Response to Celerity (Original post)

Thu Feb 27, 2020, 01:55 PM

1. Something I heard on radio that was IMO quite profound

The UK-EU trade negotiations are the only free trade negotiations that will make trade tougher between countries.

My thoughts: no shit Sherlock... That's what Brexit is about.

No deal Brexit here we come. City of London isn't going to like it (well Greater London doesn't like it either but the City is the financial HQ)...

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