The long-awaited free trade agreement between the EU and Japan has been signed this week. This comes hard on the heels of an FTA between the EU and Canada. It is estimated that 99% of traded goods between Japan and EU member states will now be free of tariffs. This event has provoked much discussion beyond the handshakes - and a lot of that discussion has taken place in the UK.
What, an increasing number of voices are asking, are we doing walking away from the EU at the time it has concluded these FTAs, which if we continue out of the European Club, we may have to renegotiate from scratch? What will happen to that part of the UK’s car industry that involves Japanese manufacturers, like Nissan near Sunderland, Honda near Swindon, and Toyota near Derby? Will it stay or will it go?
The questions asked by Sky News political editor Faisal Islam were typical of the concerns being raised in the wake of the signing: “EU-Japan trade deal signed - big deal for Brexit Britain - how, why, when, does UK keep deal with world #3 economy”. He also noted “in April PM told me: ‘will be possible to continue trade arrangements with countries we've previously had through EU when we are outside”. But how?
He went on “At last g20, I was told that Korean President particularly exercised by Brexit impact on v successful EU-Korea deal [which] helped boost UK exports … seems difficult to see the legal underpinning for simply ‘cutting & pasting’ the EU's 50 plus trade deals - without agreed UK-EU deal”. In other words, to continue trade arrangements, which Theresa May apparently believes is possible, depends on an EU-UK deal.
That means not walking out of talks and leaving the EU without a deal. It also means that, out there on the right, there had to be a push back, a comprehensive nay-saying of what appeared to be the dawning reality. So it was that Dan, Dan The Oratory Man took to Twitter to tell “Free trade is in everyone's interest. Odd that some Remainers see the EU-Japan deal as bad for Britain. We want our neighbours to prosper”.
So he didn’t have an answer, either. But in the fairyland that is the Spectator magazine, routinely dishonest editor Fraser Nelson had the matter well in hand. His carefully crafted deflection came in two parts, with the first aimed at the trade deal itself: “Japan and the EU have agreed a trade deal today. Or have they? My blog on a pre-G20 illusion”. See? Easy peasy lemon squeezy! Just pretend the trade deal is a stunt!
Thus the anti-EU brigade has its disruptive talking points for the weekend politics shows and their paper reviews. Wave that EU-Japan trade deal away, it’s not real! Then came Nelson’s “look over there” play, as he Tweeted “From immigration to walls and climate change, millions of Europeans agree with Donald Trump”. Yes, don’t worry about Brexit stuffing the economy, because he’s seen an opinion poll he likes!
And so the response of the EU-hating right is revealed: we should pretend it’s not happening. Repeat after the nice presentable pundit: the EU-Japan deal is not real. Look over there at the USA. Let Hannan drone you to sleep with endless and meaningless blather. It must be OK, because, well, those nice pundits tell us so.
Meanwhile in the real world, Sterling slides. Share prices wobble. Realisation dawns.