Theresa May’s Canada visit demonstrates how little clout UK will have after Brexit

THERESA May’s official visit to Canada this Monday was a fiasco. Hastily organised on the premise of the UN summit in New York, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was polite enough to host his UK counterpart, yet no agreement on trade was reached. 

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First published in The National, 20 September 2017

In her speech on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, the beleaguered UK Prime Minister said that “we have agreed today that [the EU-Canada trade agreement] should be swiftly transitioned to form a new bilateral arrangement between the UK and Canada after Brexit.”

Justin Trudeau’s office, on the other hand, issued a statement to say that “[the two Prime Ministers] emphasized their desire for a seamless transition on trade as the UK exits the EU.” 

Look at the words. A desire is not an agreement, not to mention that an agreement to an arrangement shows how far the UK is from reaching any serious, fully-fledged trade deal with Canada.

In fact, like every other commonwealth country, Canada has officially told the UK it should not leave the EU - PM Justin Trudeau said, word for word, “Britain’s clout is obviously amplified by its strength as part of the EU”.

Hence what was the output of Theresa May’s eight-hour-long visit to Canada? Did some UK tabloids not claim that she would, “show up the EU by signing numerous commercial deals with Canada”?
The result was a meagre joint statement to condemn Boeing’s lawsuit against Canada. A public policy forum has been announced to establish a “working group on post-Brexit bilateral relations, including to ensure a seamless transition of agreements such as on trade, air services and nuclear cooperation as the UK exits the EU”.
Nothing was achieved, because Canada is waiting, and hoping, that Brexit Britain changes course, backtracks and admits it needs to remain in the single market at worst, or remain in the EU at best.

This working group is the thirteenth of its kind, similar to the one established in Japan in August. Remember the Japanese government expressed its concern over the lack of any clarity over the future of the UK’s economic situation if it leaves the EU - this is the world’s third largest economy speaking.

As a Member of the European Parliament for Scotland, I know there will be a hard landing for Theresa May’s government as they slowly but surely realize the UK is not the empire it used to be in the forties, but 3.5% of the global economy.
Canada knows the UK is overwhelmingly dependent on the EU, therefore any “seamless transition of agreements” would require the UK to apply EU rules to keep on trading. Our neighbours know that four EU countries export more than the UK, some even three times as much in the case of Germany.

Canada has had to negotiate very hard with the EU to partly access our single market, because the EU has paid particular attention to upholding EU standards in the food we eat, the goods we buy and the services we deliver. While Canada’s hormone-beef or chlorine-washed chicken are not allowed in Scotland thanks to EU rules, London’s negotiating position will be weaker and certainly less sensitive to Scottish interests.

Colin Horgan, a Canadian political analyst and former adviser to Justin Trudeau, wrote ahead of May’s meeting: “In a way, Britons voted for the UK to become the Canada of Europe. Maybe it’s time it started acting like it.” He explains that Canada is realistic and understands its weight is limited, so it needs to adapt accordingly when it seeks trade deals with its giant southern neighbour.

The UK makes up 8% of the EU’s total trade. It will not take precedence over the EU in the WTO, in Canada or anywhere else: the EU is the top trading partner of 80 countries in the world. The UK cannot punch above its own weight in the world without solidarity with our EU partners, making full use of the expertise and experience that our current partnership offers.

The UK’s Brexit debacle has gone to extremes I had never imagined. Speaking ahead of her visit to Canada, Theresa May said Canada and the UK both shared the progressive values of “respect for international law”. Poor Justin Trudeau must have wanted to ask her why, then, are our EU partners having to even ask the UK to respect a basic fundamental of international law - the Vienna Convention, that is - which requires that the UK pays its part of the EU budget to which it formally committed to?

It seems today that one catches more flies with maple syrup than with British marmalade.