Interview: More rationale needed to seal post-Brexit trade deal, says UK expert

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by Oliver Jarvis

LONDON, Dec. 15 (Xinhua) -- As talks between Britain and the European Union (EU) over a post-Brexit trade deal continue beyond the Sunday deadline, hopes of a deal are on the horizon if both sides show "a little more rationale", a British political expert told Xinhua in an interview recently.

Over the last few weeks, three issues have been repeatedly raised as to why negotiators have still not found agreement on a deal: fishing rights, "level playing field" rules on how far Britain should be able to diverge from EU laws, and so called "governance", which refers to how any agreement should be policed.

Rajneesh Narula, the John H. Dunning Chair of International Business Regulation at the Henley Business School, University of Reading, said that despite each being a stumbling block for negotiators, there is hope that these issues can be sorted out.

Narula said he believes the fishing industry is "not the biggest issue in town" as it accounts for a relatively small proportion in the overall economy. According to the BBC, fishing industry accounts for about 0.1 percent of the British economy.

"The fishing industry is so tiny, 70 percent of what they catch is exported to the EU anyway. So it's not the biggest issue in town," he said.

"The mechanism for agreeing disputes is fairly straightforward as well," said Narula, adding that an independent body could be set up to help solve the issue.

"And the competition thing can also be agreed to be revised or revisited in five years. These are very reasonable proposals," he said.

Pride, in the eyes of Narula, is perhaps one of the key factors to why neither side is budging -- and why, with about two weeks to go before the deadline, both sides still do not have a deal.

Both sides said they still want a deal, and Narula said that he believes that there is no case as to not have a deal.

"In a rational world, and that is to say from a business perspective, there's no upside of having no deal."

"The markets know this. And if you've noticed the exchange rate...the pound has remained incredibly stable, despite all of the shenanigans going on, and the markets keep saying the same thing. The United Kingdom needs a deal. There is no economic logic of not having a deal. And the markets believe that the British government essentially is rational," he said.

However, Narula noted the differing political philosophies of both camps: Britain believes sovereignty and "taking back control" as the answer to progress, while the EU holds onto the hope that remaining connected and as a union is the answer.

These differing philosophies keep the can tumbling down the road, and the latest kick -- past the Sunday deadline -- lands the can nearer to the no-deal cliff edge, according to Narula.

But there is a realistic, and hard, final deadline, Narula said. Britain has declined to ask for an extension to transition period which ends on Dec. 31. If British Prime Minister Boris Johnson does put his hardline rhetoric into action and not consider an extension should there still be no agreement reached, then Britain will leave the EU with no deal.

According to Narula, the reason the Sunday deadline was not reached and an extension granted was because neither side want to lose face by conceding or through apparent idleness.

Despite the talks restarting this week, nothing much has changed.

"Nobody wants to say we did not try hard enough. And I think for the UK, it's very important that there is some deal. But how to make a deal look good to his (Johnson's) right wing extreme Brexit colleagues. That's his problem. And he doesn't know how to sell this," he said.

As negotiations do continue ever further into December, there is growing concerns in Britain about a double hit of a no-deal Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another 20,263 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 1,869,666, according to official figures released Monday.

The coronavirus-related deaths in Britain rose by 232 to 64,402, the data showed.

To bring life back to normal, countries including Britain, China, Germany, Russia, and the United States are racing against time to find a vaccine.

Meanwhile, there is also a hint that the European side has become more pragmatic in its approach.

"They (EU leaders) are willing to give away more actually, they know that a no deal will not help any of the neighboring countries, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Ireland. So I think they want a deal more for that reason, because of the effect it will have on top of COVID-19," he said.

As time is running out before the end of the year, Narula is still in belief that some form of deal can be reached -- just with a little more rationale.

"If there is no deal, both lose. But the United Kingdom loses for longer or longer term," Narula said. Enditem

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