The United Kingdom now has one foot out of the European Union’s door after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit Bill was endorsed by the House of Commons on Thursday.
Succeeding where his beleaguered predecessor, Theresa May, had repeatedly failed, the Conservative Party leader saw his EU-agreed framework for leaving the European body backed by 330 members of parliament with 231 opposed, paving the way for the country’s official departure on January 31.
In fact Brexit will still not be done on January 31st. Britain will move into an 11-month transition period when it must obey all the EU’s rules and keep paying into its budget. And the future talks will cover not just trade but standards, security, data exchange, fisheries, financial services, research and much else. Moreover, as Ursula von der Leyen, the commission president, made clear at her meeting with Mr Johnson at Downing Street on January 8th, they will be even more difficult than the withdrawal negotiations.
Changes to the withdrawal bill will not help. It now bans by law any extension of the transition period beyond 2020. Promises to safeguard workers’ rights post-Brexit have gone, in line with Mr Johnson’s plan to escape EU regulations.
The truth is that Mr Johnson is in a weak bargaining position. The withdrawal agreement deals with money owed after Brexit, the rights of EU citizens in Britain and, via customs checks in the Irish Sea, the guarantee of an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. The EU 27 have learnt the value of unity from previous talks, and unlike Britain they have experienced trade negotiators. And size matters: the EU accounts for almost half of Britain’s exports, while Britain takes barely a tenth of the EU’s.
It is desirable for Pakistan to keep an eye on proceedings. At $1.7 billion in 2018, as per the International Trade Centre, the UK is the third most important destination for Pakistani exports. Courtesy of the GSP Plus, products of Pakistan’s export interest are entitled to duty free treatment. Given that Brexit is almost underway now, the impact on the country’s exports is unclear.