The dictionary defines the word “momentous” as “of great importance or significance, especially in having a bearing on future events”. So an announcement that “the UK and Italy have today, agreed a momentous trade partnership to boost UK exports, help create jobs, increase wages and grow the economy” sounds very exciting.
The Department for International Trade even sent some nice photos out with the press release showing trade secretary Kemi Badenoch signing the deal in Italy; they are somewhat reminiscent of the UK signing the Lisbon Treaty or some such major international pact.
But let’s be clear this is no such thing. There are no trade treaties with individual EU member states. Such deals are negotiated by the European Commission for the whole of the EU. Despite the attempts by numerous Brexit supporters to claim that the UK could do separate deals with separate European countries that is impossible and is never going to happen.
So what was Kemi Badenoch signing in Rome?
Well, it certainly is not a “momentous” anything. It is just a memorandum of understanding, designed to strengthen business links between the UK and Italy. There is no more money on the table and no reduction of tariffs or quotas. Yet it is being hailed as something of great importance and significance, much in the same way that the government has been boasting of new trade deals with individual US states, as if they are somehow equivalent to a full-blown trade deal with Washington. DC
They are not full trade deals and never can be. They are nice bits of paper that visiting ministers take home, rather like the gift of a flag or a snow globe paperweight showing the parliament building in winter.
In fact, trade with Italy has already declined since Brexit as you would expect. Leaving the very best kind of trade deal, one where you do not just remove tariffs but all barriers to trade and allow each other’s products to trade seamlessly across a whole continent is never going to be replaced by anything better, only by something considerably worse.
In the case of Brexit that is the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, a bare-bones trade deal which was the best that the UK could get out of its woefully mismanaged negotiations. The idea that a nice piece of Italian paper is going to somehow “boost a trade relationship worth more than £43 billion” (as the government’s vainglorious press release puts it) is just a bit of cynical propaganda designed to pull the wool over your eyes.
Since Brexit has already damaged UK exports, the job market, wages and the economy, to claim that this will somehow not just repair the damage but make things better than before Brexit is shameless.
The government even claims that “The agreement reinforces the UK’s position as a vital trade partner within Europe” and demonstrates “strengthening partnerships with EU members. “
This is just the opposite of the truth. Brexit has weakened both. Until it is replaced, Britain and its trade are of less importance and greater insignificance.