The Christmas Day agreement on new terms of trade between Britain and its largest economic partner, the European Union, is unlikely to please everyone in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party, but a majority is expected to back him. With the Labour Party already supporting the new framework as a welcome alternative to a “no-deal” hard Brexit from the EU, the deal is expected to be ratified by the British parliament this week. The European governments too are set to approve the deal that comes into force on January 1. To be sure, there will be multiple glitches in implementing the complex agreement, which guarantees tariff-free trade on most goods between two of the world’s largest economic entities. It also lays the basis for future cooperation on law enforcement, security, data flows among other important areas.
While Europe regrets the separation and looks forward to a new beginning with Britain, Johnson claims a major political victory in regaining British sovereignty to make its own laws and freedom to engage the world on its own terms. Johnson’s success should bring to an end the prolonged political divisions in Britain on the nature of its relationship with Europe after the Second World War. The schism in the Conservative party was even deeper. All the seven Conservative prime ministers who preceded Johnson — Theresa May, David Cameron, John Major, Margaret Thatcher, Edward Heath and Harold Macmillan — saw their political careers destroyed by the European question. Britain had voted with a thin margin to leave the EU in a referendum during the summer of 2016; but few had bet on London’s ability to negotiate an amicable separation. As he celebrated the deal, Johnson insisted that the agreement brings “a new stability and a new certainty” to a relationship that has long been fractious and difficult. “Although we have left the EU,” Johnson said, Britain “will remain culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically and geologically attached to Europe”.
The break from Europe will lead to a significant rearrangement of Britain’s foreign economic policy and international relations. London is actively negotiating multiple bilateral free trade agreements with major economic partners, trying to reinforce the traditional strategic partnerships with the US and Japan and leverage historic connections with Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth nations. Johnson’s visit to India, as the guest at the Republic Day next month, offers an opportunity for Delhi to take a close look at London’s post Brexit plans and make a big push for the transformation of a bilateral relationship that has long performed way below its natural potential.
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