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“The United Kingdom and the European Union will have to find a balance between competition and cooperation”

ATfter Brexit, the UK and the European Union (EU) face the “Gore Vidal trap”. Known for his bite, the American writer once said: “It’s not all to win. Others must fail. “ There is currently a political logic which strongly pushes each camp to make the failure of the other the measure of its own success.

We saw it with the anti-Covid-19 vaccinations, when Boris Johnson bragged that the UK had done more than all of the European states put together. The pinnacle of childishness having been reached by Education Minister Gavin Williamson when he said “We are a much better country than any of them”. That being said, ‘vidalism’ was included in the Brexiters project. After all, isn’t their idea precisely that the country is “Much better outside” ?

Less central on the side of the EU – which has, it must be said, other fish to fry – this logic is still very present, especially in countries where strong Eurosceptics (like Marine Le Pen) could on the contrary insist on the success of the British model. In any case, it is obvious to the talented French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune: the night the United Kingdom left the EU for good, he (rightly) observed, on Twitter, that this country punished himself and added that“We also had to show the price to pay”.

Almost everything is still to be negotiated

But the negotiations are over, you might object. We have an agreement. Brexit is done. Well think again. The UK will spend the next few years negotiating with the EU.

The Johnson government had explained that the choice boiled down to becoming like “Australia or Canada”. In reality, we will rather get closer to Switzerland, which endures endless finicky negotiations with the EU, punctuated here and there by reprisals from Brussels. Of course the UK will be a bigger Switzerland with nuclear missiles, but the dilemma remains fundamentally the same.

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London has negotiated an excellent agreement on trade in goods – excellent for the EU indeed. German cars will be able to continue entering the country, along with other manufactured goods, when the EU has a trade surplus with the UK. For the remaining 80% of the UK economy, made up of services, almost everything is still to be negotiated. This includes financial services, which account for almost 10% of UK exports.

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