Forget comparisons to May’s deal – Boris Johnson has secured a good deal in its own right

Forget comparisons to May’s deal – Boris Johnson has secured a good deal in its own right

The narrative amongst many who are sympathetic (or enthusiastic) about Brexit seems to be that Boris Johnson’s deal is miles better than the previous iteration delivered under Theresa May. Comparatively, Johnson’s deal trumps May’s.

I agree, but let’s go a step further. This is a good deal, outright, in itself, regardless of comparison.

It is the product of compromise, which is not a sign of weakness or failure, but rather the only way to secure a deal between two major world players. And it appears Johnson has weighed up compromises and wins in all the right areas. Just look at the highlights.

The backstop is gone. The UK is officially out of the Customs Union. This means the entire UK, including Northern Ireland, can strike free trade deals around the world.

Free trade deals, with the EU and beyond, have always been the gold standard for Brexit opportunities. Virtually all economists agree free trade boosts prosperity, and now the UK can pursue these initiatives around the world. The success of these deals with create a win-win situation for all parties involved.

Related is the fact that the Political Declaration has completely changed gear for the future relationship, no longer aiming for a customs-style arrangement, but rather a free trade deal with the EU.

Johnson’s team have also scrapped the commitment to ‘level playing field measures’. While some criticism has been made of the new wording, which suggests both sides should pursue “common high standards”, this is not legally binding. It’s right that friendly neighbours should work towards recognising each other’s high standards and regulations. But ultimately if the UK does want to diverge in areas like tax, it can. The UK is in charge of its own future on such critical matters.

And onto the delicate issue of Northern Ireland. From an economic perspective, this is a generous deal for them. Northern Ireland will be able to reap the benefits of the UK’s free trade agreements, while also having access to the Single Market. This creates opportunity for Northern Ireland to increase its competitiveness and become more appealing to business worldwide.

Yes, the deal creates new burdens on trade within the UK, but as the IEA’s Victoria Hewson pointed out yesterday, so did May’s deal, “without enabling the potential (economic) benefits that Boris Johnson’s deal could bring.”

Furthermore, the ‘consent mechanism’ injects democracy and control into the deal that did not previously exist. The Northern Ireland Assembly will have the ultimate say, and veto, on its relationship with the European Union.

The DUP’s frustrations are understandable. As major supporters of Johnson, the final iteration of the deal is far from what they anticipated. But ultimately, the relationship with the EU and Ireland especially has to be a decision for Northern Ireland as a whole, not a single political party within it.

Indeed, it is hard to imagine another circumstance where we would deem it justifiable that just one party (say the SNP more Lib Dems) could be granted such a powerful veto over an issue relating to the wider country.

And even if not intended, a possible consequence of this deal could be, over time, the issues that have led to Stormont instability and suspensions are confronted and addressed.

Crucially, the terms in the new Brexit deal can be trumped by the successful negotiation of a Free Trade Agreement with between the UK and the EU. It’s possible that in a few years’ time, many of the provisions around Northern Ireland that we are debating now won’t even be relevant.

This new deal creates the opportunity for an economically liberal relationship between the UK and the EU to flourish. And it allows UK and EU to be great friends and trading partners, both now and down the road.

That’s exactly how it should be. The UK as an independent body – not a rule-taking sidekick – with a strong ally by its side.