David Cameron thinks a UK-EU trade deal can be salvaged

Boris Johnson’s threats to breach a treaty are part of a negotiation, the former prime minister tells The Economist

9/17/2020 8:00:00 PM

“We’re going to have to make sure that we are good friends, neighbours and partners to the EU, rather than members and I think once we've got this deal in place, that is perfectly possible to do.” David_Cameron on a Brexit deal, on “The Economist Asks”

Boris Johnson’s threats to breach a treaty are part of a negotiation, the former prime minister tells The Economist

Speaking as Boris Johnson, the prime minister, made concessions to his critics in parliament over a threat to override a part of the Withdrawal Agreement from the EU (known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, which guarantees that there would be no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland under future trading agreements), Mr Cameron argued that progress is likely.

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Mr Johnson is “a rational, intelligent person”, he told Anne McElvoy, the podcast’s host, “and I am sure he wants a deal. There are significant costs for the UK [of no-deal] and the last two areas we are talking about, state aid and fishing rights, are soluble. So I am sure that is what he wants to do.”

Mr Cameron also argued for a reset in relations between Britain and the Continent. “We're going to have to make sure that we are good friends, neighbours and partners to the EU, rather than members, and I think once we've got this deal in place, that is perfectly possible”. headtopics.com

Sir John Major and Tony Blair, respectively past Conservative and Labour prime ministers, have joined forces to warn that any ultimatums which could destabilise the historically sensitive Irish border risk endangering Britain’s reputation as a reliable signatory to international treaties.

Mr Cameron predicted that the storm might pass if Britain and the EU could come to terms over trade next month. The UK Internal Market bill, which passed in parliament this week, gives ministers powers to “disapply” rules agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement for goods that travel in and out of Northern Ireland.

“I did take a different line on this compared to my fellow ex Prime Ministers,” Mr Cameron said. “I see it in this context we are in a negotiation with the EU trying to get a deal. And when I look at what the government has done, yes, they have proposed a law which they might or might implement, depending on what circumstances might or might not come to pass. And of course, if we get a deal, it won't happen. So I choose to see it as a tactical move.”

For all the debate over whether the Johnson government is merely sabre-rattling, Joe Biden, the Democratic Party presidential candidate, increased pressure on Mr Johnson’s rough-house negotiating style, tweeting, “We can't allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit. Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.” headtopics.com

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Asked whether the present stand-off would make a UK-US trade deal more elusive, Mr Cameron told the podcast. “If the deal is done, and this bill is taken off the table, and this episode is forgotten about, the question you're asking is how much lasting damage is done by the fact that it was ever put on the table in the first place? I wouldn’t necessarily have gone about it this way. But I think that the UK will get a fair hearing when they try and explain just how difficult this negotiation was. How easy it’s going to be to do a trade deal with the US is an entirely different matter.”

A renewed push for Scottish independence in the wake of Brexit (Scotland voted to remain in the EU), recalls Mr Cameron’s own difficulties in the 2014 referendum on independence, which resulted in a narrow-ish 55-45 win for Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom. Asked if he thought another referendum would be hard for the British government in London to resist in the next few years, Mr Cameron insisted, “It’s not justified to have another referendum. Those wanting a referendum said it was once in a lifetime, once in a generation, I think we should hold them to that.” But he also reflected anxieties about ongoing tetchiness between Scotland and the British Government exacerbated by differences in approach to tackling covid-19 and post-Brexit tensions.

“I think those of us who care about the United Kingdom have got to think harder about what we can do to make this family of nations work better, how can we show genuine respect for the fact that it is a voluntary union of four nations.”Britain’s role in deepening its military intervention in Afghanistan under the Cameron government remains controversial. Asked if he thought the high-water mark of such involvements had now passed, he defended the decision to stay in Afghanistan, while conceding that America and Britain should “have been able to move things along more quickly”. He also regretted losing a Commons vote over intervention in Syria. “Iraq pointed to the dangers of intervention. Syria points to the dangers of not intervening. We didn’t do enough right from the start to back legitimate pluralistic Syrian people against the butchery of Assad. And the price that's been paid for failure is massive in terms of the lives lost, what’s happened to that country and the refugee crisis. And I think specifically on (Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s) use of chemical weapons, if you draw a red line in international affairs, when that red line is crossed, you must act. And I think it was a mistake not to act.” Pressed on whether he blamed President Obama for failing to intervene, he replied, “Yes, absolutely. That message about a red line being crossed and not being acted on resonated not just in Damascus, but also elsewhere around the world.”

A racy new diary published by Sasha Swire, a close friend of Mr Cameron and wife of a minister in his government, has lifted the lid on boozy parties, and the partying life of an exclusive social tribe during his administration. Did he run a tight-knit “chumocracy” as alleged by Lady Swire? headtopics.com

“There is a flaw in that theory, which is: this wasn't a government of chums. In fact, one of the beefs in the book is that I sacked her (Lady Swire’s) husband, a very good friend of mine, from the Shadow Cabinet when I was Leader of the Opposition. And then yes, I did make him a minister in the government. And he was a very effective Foreign Office minister, and I kept him there. And I didn’t put him in the cabinet. And that’s part of the beef that this somehow was unjust. So you can’t argue it was a government of chums, unless chums didn’t get preferential treatment, which they didn’t. Nobody likes their private life put out there. But if you want your privacy respected—then politics isn’t the job for you.”

Read more: The Economist »

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