The EU-UK trade agreement – and the tale of two tables

Boxing Day, 2020

The post-Brexit agreement on trade and other matters is, it seems, in final draft form – although it has not yet been officially published.

What seems to be a copy of the final draft is here.

Proper analysis of the agreement will necessarily take time – though an initial glance showed about ten pages devoted to creating dozens and dozens of joint European Union and United Kingdom talking shops – committees, assemblies, talking shops, and so on.

This indicates that Brexit will in fact be a negotiation without end.

So while we digest this Christmas feast, let us look at a couple of Christmas cards.


The first is a ‘scorecard’ made public on Christmas Eve.

This purports to show a sequence of heady United Kingdom ‘wins’.

It is too soon to tell whether this document accords with the actual draft agreement, but even on its own terms it is confused and unconvincing.

For example, if we look at public procurement, where the United Kingdom had no proposals, the outcome is dubbed a ‘mutual compromise’.

But on legal services, where the European Union in turn had no position, the outcome is dubbed a United Kingdom ‘win’.Some topics are artificially broken up, perhaps to claim more United Kingdom ‘wins’ (for example, Financial Services), and other ‘wins’ not substantiated by accompanying text (especially Law Enforcement).

Such inconsistencies and distortions mean that, even on the face of it, the ‘scorecard’ is not a reliable document to form a view on the draft agreement either for or against.

The table has been created by the United Kingdom government (or a supporter of government policy) as propaganda, not analysis.


The United Kingdom government, however, is not alone in presenting a table as a spinning exercise.

Again, it is too soon to tell whether this table is accurate in comparison with the actual agreement, though there are no obvious internal inconsistencies in the document.

And maybe significantly, this second table is not framed as ‘wins’ but is instead about losses – the scope and areas of coverage.

What is outside the agreement, as opposed to what was included.

Looking down the ticks and crosses indicate what the United Kingdom might be losing as opposed to ‘winning’.


Just as the number of talking shops to be created under the agreement show that Brexit will now become a negotiation without end, the existence of these two tables indicate that the merits of Brexit will also be an ongoing argument.

Brexit will be a contested subject for at least a generation.

This trade agreement may be bringing part of the Brexit story to a formal conclusion, but it certainly does not bring Brexit to an end.



The United Kingdom government has now published the final draft agreement and a 34 page summary – see here.

And the European Union has published its suite of documents here.



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23 thoughts on “The EU-UK trade agreement – and the tale of two tables”

    1. If only. Switzerland does have lots of ongoing negotiations with the EU. It also has free movement of people and effectively has a customs union for personal goods and it ensures that all its products comply with EU standards.

      There isn’t a single way in which the UK is better off or more “sovereign” than it was when it was in the EU, and I am struggling to see how we are as well off as Norway or Switzerland.

  1. The UK government has published a trade agreement, and separate agreements on nuclear and security matters, here:

    It seems these will be applied provisionally, initially to the end of February 2021, while the lengthy and deliberative EU ratification process continues. No doubt the UK parliament will give Johnson after Blanche at a one-day session next week without most of the MPs having read the whole thing. For comparison, this is about the length of “War and Peace”.

  2. That should be “carte blanche”. Oh well. Stupid auto correct. I hope it corrects more errors than it creates. You can also blame the proofreader. No doubt we can rest assured there will be no such inadvertent errors in the draft “in principle” trade agreement, or indeed the coronavirus regulations…

  3. Of course it doesn’t bring Brexit to an end.

    Too many people find the process highly exploitable (Farage, etc) and too many are happy to nurse the uncertainty for partisan political gain (whoever takes over from Johnson will be able to keep banging the Europhobe drum for years and a distraction technique) or to prop up a failing industry (dead tree media)

    Brexit will only be “done” when those advocating it are out of power. This may take some time.

  4. This highlights a very important point which is the ‘complexity cost’ of leaving the EU. Many things are simpler if arranged once on behalf of 500 million people. (Though of course the detail of those arrangements is what gives rise to objections about the EU.) The UK will now have to organise these things itself (including – or plus – its own relations with the EU). I anticipate 50,000 customs agents is just the start of the new effort that will be required. To describe this as added ‘bureaucracy’ is a shorthand, it is the complexity of the activity, not its volume, that is the bigger issue. This new complex activity is likely to be painful, time-consuming and at high risk of error.

    (Without wishing to cause offence…) In my experience the involvement of lawyers can often lead to significant and unwelcome increases in complexity.

    1. “(Without wishing to cause offence…) In my experience the involvement of lawyers can often lead to significant and unwelcome increases in complexity.”

      You mean precision in drafting and reliable advice on liability? Damn those lawyers!

      1. Those are of course essential, it was more the ‘compromise/deal’ sentences that can be agreed and written quickly by lawyers, but give rise to enormous practical / operational difficulties for those who have to implement things, that I was thinking of.

    2. (Without wishing to cause offence…) In my experience the involvement of lawyers can often lead to significant and unwelcome increases in complexity.

      I imagine it’s the other way around – the added complexity means more lawyers are needed.

  5. It is sad but perhaps inevitable that the outcome of the negotiations are seen in terms of “wins” and “losses”. The best negotiations aim at “win/wins”.
    In my view this is a bad deal that is better than no deal, to invert a phrase someone once used.

    1. Agreed. The UK ‘scorecard’ reflects a Trumpian zero-sum account of negotiation in which the aim is largely to win bragging rights and publicly humiliate the other side rather than to secure mutual benefits.

      In the coming year we’ll start to experience what the Irish blogger Tom Hayes calls ‘the Brexit of little things’: customs declarations where there were none before, the loss of pet passports, the longer wait in the non-EU lane at borders, the greater travel and work rights attached to an Irish passport, for those who can get one, and the resentment of those who lack the right ancestry and have to make do with the now less valuable UK passport. And the Brexit of not-so-little things: the job losses as businesses relocate to the single market to avoid non-tariff barriers.

      The recriminations will then start to fly: ‘The EU is punishing us!’ versus ‘Suck it up, Leavers, we told you so!’ The challenge then will be to push the debate beyond mudslinging to make constructive proposals as to how a bad deal might become the basis for a better one.

  6. Whilst Brexit in it’s strictest sense will be done, next week when the transition period ends on 31st December.

    The new arrangements, mean that the practical effect of Brexit will be the UK entering into an eternal trade negotiation with the EU, with breaches in the agreements subject to arbitration.

    Assuming the deal is ratified it will be interesting to see how both the EU/UK deal with upcoming challenges around data adequacy and regulatory changes proposed under the Digital Services/Digital Markets act. Will the UK align or goes it’s own way?

    Finally the framing of UK wins presents this trade deal as a zero sum game rather than the start of what should be a new and mutually beneficial relationship between UK and the EU27, does no favours to the public understanding and acceptance of the deal especially if there are more “losses” hidden in the details.

    1. ‘Public understanding’ is non-existent by design. My 16 year-old daughter complained that at no point in her education was any time devoted to the operation of either UK parliamentary procedure or the architecture of the EU institutions. Had there been any inclusion on the general syllabus, claims of ‘an unelected EU Commission making the rules” would have been laughed at by anyone under 50. The ‘public’ have more interest in the Eastenders Christmas storyline than anything regarding the loss of their children’s rights and future opportunities.

      1. As the old adage goes, “never expect a government to educate it’s young to a level at which they can remove them”

  7. It’s lovely to see from Australia, “what is Brexit?” has an answer.

    Let’s rewind 5 years and ask how it compares to Norway and Switzerland. Britons finally have a way to form a view on the referendum question — about as academic a question as can be.

  8. I don’t know the full details, but the Erasmus scheme continues for students in N Ireland. Likewise, the EHIC scheme will “continue” for NI residents, possibly through reimbursement.

    Both of these are being financially underwritten by the government of the Republic of Ireland. (Which, it hardly needs saying, is a “foreign” country.)

  9. Of all the philosophers Bertrand Russell covers in his book “A History of Western Philosophy” he is perhaps the most scathing about Rousseau: “The broad general principles with which [Rosseau] starts, and which he presents as if they solved political problems, disappear when he condescends to detailed considerations, towards the solution of which they contribute nothing.” (page 700, The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell).

    Now that the EU/UK trade agreement has been published it is possible to refer to the Brexit process and see if Russell’s assessment of Rosseau’s “Will of the People” theory and its inability to contribute to the solution of political problems remains robust.

    Recent coverage of the EU/UK trade negotiations has focused on the concept of sovereignty. Rather conveniently for the UK Government sovereignty is not something that can easily be translated into meaningful economic terms other than to say that at a very high-and thus meaningless-level it is the price worth paying for likely future economic damage.

    However, this is an incorrect and misleading narrative. The 2016 EU referendum was won not by unquantifiable references to sovereignty but by persistently repeating false statements about the economic advantages that Brexit offered the UK: “From the very first video with which they launched their campaign in October to polling day, Vote Leave stuck to their claim that Britain sent £350 million a week to Brussels, and that the money would be better spent at home. Dominic Cummings had the number emblazoned on the campaign bus. The claim was appended to nearly every email the campaign sent. And it was parroted by voters at every turn. It became a focus of claims that Vote Leave were fighting their campaign on lies. But to Cummings it was the key to undermining Osborne’s economic-risk onslaught. He summed up Remain’s fatal fallacy to colleagues: ‘They never saw £350 million as the economy’.” and “The happiest Paul Stephenson ever saw Cummings was on the morning he told the team to put the NHS logo on the side of the Vote Leave’s bus. ‘He was literally jumping around saying, “We’re going to use the NHS logo and they’re going to hate it.” Health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s team had already sent a legal letter threatening to sue Vote Leave for putting the logo on their leaflets. Stephenson responded that if they wished to impound the bus he would be happy to arrange a media call for Hunt to come down and do it personally.” (pages 254 and 93, All Out War by Tim Shipman)

    MPs voting to ratify the EU/UK trade deal in December 2020 with only the benefit of a few days may not be able to absorb the implications of all the relevant technical detail in such a compressed period of time. That said they will be able to use the opportunity to reflect more generally on their experience of the Brexit process over the past four years and, using the language of Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow”, conduct a “pre mortem”.

    Should they elect to do this, one question MPs should consider is whether it is possible that the MPs that voted to trigger the UK’s Article 50 notification provided in March 2017, including both May and Corbyn, were “overawed” for the purposes of Section 3 of the Treason Felony Act 1848 by an EU Referendum campaign materially skewed by Vote Leave’s misleading and incorrect campaign slogan.

    As to causation and the materiality of Vote Leave’s misrepresentation about the economic benefits of Brexit: “Here’s what [Dominic Cummings] said in January this year: “Pundits and MPs kept saying ‘Why isn’t Vote Leave arguing about the economy and living standards?’ They did not realise that for millions of people, £350m/NHS was about the economy and living standards – that’s why it was so effective. It was clearly the most effective argument not only with the crucial swing fifth but with almost every demographic. Would we have won without the £350m/NHS? All our research and the close result strongly suggests No. Some people now claim this was cynical and we never intended to spend more on the NHS. Wrong.” Rather than criticising these commitments to the NHS – promises entered into by cabinet ministers and by MPs – the public will doubtless want to see them honoured.” (Simon Stevens CEO NHS England 8, November 2017)

    The EU/UK trade agreement may be ratified by a majority of MPs in the near future but in the UK a majority of MPs is not always required or sufficient to determine the final shape of a particular policy or objective. Consider the following statement made by Joan Ruddock MP in 2010: “The hon. Gentleman asked about EU law and suggested that there was an amendment to a directive that could be a threat to any future EPS. We have been in discussions on the matter and we remain convinced that the proposed amendment does not threaten any attempt by a sovereign state to introduce an EPS at any stage in the future.” (House of Commons Hansard Debates for 24 Feb 2010)

    On its face a seemingly low key response dealing with a technical aspect of “sovereignty” and the application of EU law at the close of an Energy Bill debate ten years ago. However, although the UK Government narrowly won the vote that day, the above statement provided formal confirmation, recorded on Hansard, that the UK Government and the EU disagreed on the legal ability of a Member State to directly regulate the CO2 emissions from a power station in its territory, including E.on’s by then abandoned plans, to build a new unabated coal power station at Kingsnorth, Kent.

    Had the matter not been resolved politically later that year by the coalition a referral to the ECJ could have provided a legal resolution. Thus (EU) law, and the credible threat of effective litigation, helped produce a coherent and robust policy on the regulation of coal power stations in the UK (and the rest of the EU).

    If MPs did now consider that there was a real risk that in March 2017 many MPs, including May and Corbyn, were “overawed” for the purposes of Section 3 of the Treason Felony Act 1848 when they voted to trigger the UK’s Article 50 notification process in March 2017, and that the process of being “overawed” by the “Mad Riddle of Brexit” continued until and during the general election in December 2019, they should consider referring the matter to the CPS or DPP.

    One possible outcome of such a course of action is that other EU Member States, concerned that they will also sustain avoidable economic damage as a result of the friction in trade produced by Brexit, may require any subsequent criminal investigation to be completed by the relevant UK authorities before deciding that it was appropriate to formally conclude their own ratification processes for the EU/UK trade agreement.

    It would take considerable honesty and courage for any MP to take such a step. However, nothing is inevitable about either history, democracy or litigation and the Brexit process is no exception.

  10. Can someone explain the UK’s withdrawal from Erasmus for me? It seems the government thinks it would be too expensive to continue (several hundred millions per year) so they are going to set up a “better” (that is, cheaper) UK scheme dubbed “Turing”. It will cost about £100 million in the first year, for 35,000 students. So about £3,000 each. (And the second year? And the third, the fourth?)

    Whereas students in Northern Ireland will retain access to Erasmus at a cost of about £2 million for 650 students. So about £3,000 each. Er. About the same. So what gives? (And it seems the Republic of Ireland will fund it. Are there other areas where routine provision of public services in the UK is funded by overseas governments? Excluding emergency measures, such as the French sending over contingents of firemen to undertake coronavirus testing in Dover, UNICEF feeding children, etc.)

    1. The NI Assembly and the Dublin government jointly fund some medical services between Altnagelvin Hospital, near Derry, and Letterkenny in Co Donegal. This is pragmatic, to avoid duplication of services between two places which are pretty close, and to avoid long journeys for treatment for patients from Co Donegal. There are other instances of “joint working” elsewhere in the border regions.

      There is more on the Republic’s funding of the Erasmus scheme for NI students here:

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