Brexit Trade Deal – threat or opportunity for the Party?

Ed Davey wasted no time in denouncing the trade deal signed by Boris Johnson because it will be “bad for jobs, business, security and our environment“.

This is a view that is not universally shared even though UK businesses trading with the EU will now face a host of new rules, regulations and red tape. Business leaders argue that the alternative – No Deal – would have hurt the UK economy a whole lot more. The biggest relief has been expressed by the car manufacturers for whom an end to tariff-free access to the EU would have been a disaster. As it is tariff-free access to the EU continues. And an added bonus is the fact that they are now free to capitalise on market opportunities in lucrative non-EU markets like China and India.

The EU accounts for only around half of the U.K.’s exports. But up until now our ability to explore and exploit the openings for trade with countries outside the EU has been curtailed by the rules of our membership.

Economists agree that the deal will help the UK recover from the coronavirus recession, which is expected to have reduced economic output by around 12% in 2020. Ed Davey will rightly argue that is at it may be but it cannot match the benefits we enjoyed as a full member of the EU. It is point I can take.
But I do have to ask, when did our Party stop being internationalist as well as European? I am hoping the answer I get is that we always have been and still are an internationalist Party. Given that is the case, I suggest our policy makers need to start developing strategies and policies that reflect this new order.

LIBG has a great deal of expertise in this area for Ed and the Policy Team to draw on. There are also a huge number of members with strong links with their home nations – India, China, and Kashmir and so on. These individuals have forged useful “Friend of Lib Dems” networks and enjoy the confidence of senior diplomats in the respective country missions in the UK. They are thus both individually and collectively ideally qualified to help shape the new international accord that our post Brexit Country needs.

I suspect there will be those who consider my suggestion that we accept that our future lies in the wider international world and not just the EU as naïve or even treacherous. They would be wrong. I The UK has left the EU to form a new relationship with the wider world. If we wish to be part of the new order we have to adopt new ways of doing business and politics. Like the man said – adapt or die!

* Rabi Martins is a councillor and Deputy Lib Dem Group Leader on Watford Borough Council. He is a candidate for Lib Dem Vice President.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Paul Barker 4th Jan '21 - 4:37pm

    A lot of people think that there never was any chance of No-Deal, that was just a way to make any actual Deal look good in comparison.
    The idea that membership of The EU was somehow preventing us Trading with the rest of The World is nonsense. So far every one of those “New” Trade Deals that The Tories keep boasting about have been simply rollovers of the deals we already had via The EU.
    Its far too soon to assess the affects of The Deal on Business, most of The UK only went back to work today.

  • I agree with Rabi Martins. At this point in time leaving the EU makes sense for a number of reasons. Unless you are so wedded to the EU that leaving will never make sense whatever happens.

  • Steve Trevethan 4th Jan '21 - 5:14pm

    “The result for the U.K. is devastating. The British negotiators were after the chimera of sovereignty and not real economic interests.”
    Sovereignty depends upon power. Powerful countries like the United States can protect their sovereignty because they have the power. The U.K. is a small island that no longer posses that kind of power. Its sovereignty depends on what others will allow them.”

    “Financial and other services (80% of U.K. G.D.P.) are not covered by the deal. Hence the E. U. can decide unilaterally which services it grants equivalence and will be able to revoke this status unilaterally. The U. K. would not be in this weakened position if it remained in the E. U.”

  • Barry Lofty 4th Jan '21 - 5:17pm

    It was never just the EU for trade otherwise I would not have enjoyed my grapes etc etc from Peru and South Africa?

  • Germany is in the EU and that has not stopped them exporting widely in India and China. So why could UK not have had the same?

  • David Evershed 4th Jan '21 - 5:23pm

    Public opinion poll post the Trade Deal with the EU shows swing from Lib Dem to Con.

    Conservative 43% (+6)
    Labour 38% (=)
    Green 5% (+1)
    SNP: 5% (+1)
    Lib Dem 4% (-5)
    Brexit Party 3% (=)

    Deltapoll December 26-30

  • Roger Billins 4th Jan '21 - 5:37pm

    4% is surely the worst opinion poll rating since 1989, perhaps one has to go back to the dark days of the Thorpe scandal to see us so low. This is payback for the farcical conduct of the party in 2019 and it would appear the vote against the trade deal has done us no favours. Surely, this is an existential moment in the history of the party. One part of me wants us to wind it down and start again.

  • nvelope2003 4th Jan '21 - 5:54pm

    A local Conservative MP is claiming that the Liberal Democrats voted for No Deal. Maybe others are saying the same. Not surprising that ratings have fallen. It is time to accept we have left the EU and put forward positive ideas to deal with that. Not many want to hear negative ideas, particularly with the COVID situation. This is neither the time nor the place. Relying on Conservative votes to win seats in Scotland will take us back to the nineteen fifties when we had only 1 seat in the House of Commons with a Conservative and Labour candidate standing, the other 5, later 4 after a by election loss to Labour (Lady Megan Lloyd George), had no Conservative standing.

  • @ Roger Billins “perhaps one has to go back to the dark days of the Thorpe scandal to see us so low”..

    I’m not so sure about that Roger. The Liberal Party polled 13.8% in the 1979 election (before the man in the brown trilby went on trial).

  • A poll rating of 4 pc is bad but not unexpected as Conservative remainers return home but it is only one poll. For them Brexit is sorted and they have no reason to vote LibDem because they do not know what else we stand for. This will remain so while our leaders remain invisible.

  • Barry Lofty 4th Jan '21 - 7:06pm

    Is it me or has this government suddenly turned into a group of saintly saviours or still the bunch self serving hypocrites I always thought they were.

  • Alex Macfie 4th Jan '21 - 7:17pm

    It is indeed one poll. We would need a crop of similar polls before forming any conclusions. And even then, it could be just a short-term hit. “Brexit is sorted” for now, but its consequences will haunt the country for years or even decades. What matters isn’t what people think of the deal now, it’s what they’ll think of it in 3½ years when the next election is due.
    nvelope2003 says “It is time to accept we have left the EU,” very well, but this means accepting its consequences. We could also accept that the Tories are in power, but does this mean we all have to support them uncritically?

  • It is all very well for Ed Davey to condemn the deal as “lousy”, but at what point in the previous 4 years did we engage with the government to get a “better” deal?

  • Alex Macfie 4th Jan '21 - 7:35pm

    Alan Jelfs: What would have been the point? Most of the time the government had a working majority (even if it was including the DUP some of the time) and there was never enough common ground for any negotiations. In any case it’s up to the government, not the opposition to put a workable plan together
    David Raw: The Liberals dipped below 5% a few times in the 1974-1979 Parliament
    In any case, comparing opinion polls to actual election results is apples & oranges.

  • Roger Billins 4th Jan '21 - 7:36pm

    @David Raw. I think our low point was well before the trial but when the scandal broke in 77. I fought my first council election in Hackney in 1978 and scored 4% which was about average. We recovered when David Steel became leader and got a huge boost from David Alton’s tremendous by election result at Liverpool Edgehill which built momentum in time for the 79 election.

  • Little Jackie Paper 4th Jan '21 - 9:31pm

    Without wanting to direct traffic to other websites….There has been a very good series of articles on Conservative Home about the deal. Not as partizan as one might expect and worth a read.

    The general thrust is that we probably won’t know the true effects of this deal – good, bad and indifferent – for some years.

    I believe that everyone on both sides of this debate would be well-advised to think on that.

  • “But up until now our ability to explore and exploit the openings for trade with countries outside the EU has been curtailed by the rules of our membership.”
    I’ve seen none in the last 4+ years. For example, the UK trade mission to China a few years back had a perfect opportunity to illustrate just what sort of deal we could and could not do being in/out of the EU, yet said nothing…

    The best that can be said is that at least we now have a trade deal, yes it introduces lots of red tape and form filling, doesn’t cover “services” or the movement of UK people providing professional services across Europe, but at least we now have a solid framework to build on.

  • It is time to pay more attention to the reality on the ground and so less to opinion polls.
    It is now less than four years until the next general election.
    We know, as ALDC always say, where you work you win.
    So let us consider the following possibility –

    In April this year the prime minister resigns, for reasons which will be thought up, but the reality being that the rumours have been true that he does not have a high enough income, and he can make many times it on a part time basis.
    After the local elections, with the hoped for vaccination well under way the new prime minister brings forward a bill to repeal the fixed term parliament Act.
    He then at some stage announces a general election.

    The real question for the party is –

    How many constituencies are there which the party can fight in a serious way?
    How do we build up enthusiasm of our members enough to fight successfully?
    How do we involve our members in agreeing what arguments to use in an important election where we start very clearly as a minor party?

    Thé answers to these and similar questions are to me the most important.

  • Peter Hirst 5th Jan '21 - 3:24pm

    We can do both. While outside the eu we can improve our relationships with countries outside it while still intending to re-join. Let’s at least take this opportunity to set up trade deals with countries that for some reason don’t have strong deals with the eu.

  • During the last few days there have been some interesting discussions about the EU including great honesty about its fundamental problems. Many agree that the Euro is the flaw. The EU needs to become a single country or a trading bloc of sovereign states but the current hybrid is unstable in the long term. This is very much an over simplification of much more sophistcated views.

    Some commenters have a more emotional attachment to the EU and defend every aspect vigorously. Brexit is the work of the devil. I really don’t know which view dominates within the party but this question has a bearing on how the party should proceed in the post Brexit era.

  • Antony Watts 6th Jan '21 - 10:01am

    Well take care. Outside the EU and its social policies (human rights etc) UK will be tempted – as it has been in its deal with Turkey – to not link and human rights to trade, just to buccaneer its way around.

    And this is not good.

  • robert packham 7th Jan '21 - 10:09pm

    There will be zero tarrifs on goods as long as the UK keeps to EU regulations otherwise tarrifs could go on . UK Government wanted Japanese and Turkey parts to be classed as British but the EU would not accept this so car companies might have to pay more money. I do not take much notice of opinion polls as most of them are paid by the Labour and Conservative parties.

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