How the New COVID-19 Strain Could Save a U.K.-EU Trade Deal

The deadline set by the European Parliament for a trade deal between the U.K. and the EU has officially passed. Despite this, a trade deal is now more likely than it has been in many months. The new strain of COVID-19 that was first detected in the United Kingdom, and which is likely responsible for a dramatic increase in cases in the U.K., has given the British a preview of what, in a worst case scenario, going it alone might actually turn out to be like.

The new strain, while probably not deadlier than the original, is far more contagious. In response the U.K. government is now canceling Christmas for tens of millions of British citizens who live in the newly created “Tier 4” regions. Travel from these regions to other regions is now banned, non-essential shops and service providers such as hairdressers have been forced to close, and no one is to leave home without a reasonable excuse (i.e. work or education). People living in these regions are not allowed to meet other people indoors unless they live with them. 

Many countries all over the world have already banned or severely restricted travel from the U.K. The Eurotunnel that connects the U.K. with France was temporarily closed (as of Tuesday, truckers and travelers trying to cross the border must first clear a rapid COVID test), and as of this writing 11 member states have already announced that they will refuse entry to travelers from the U.K. The EU is expected to issue a union-wide travel ban soon. It is frankly unlikely that this will contain the spread of the new strain, which has already been detected in Italy. It is not unreasonable to think that the travel ban has less to do with stopping the spread than it does with politics. More specifically, the ongoing trade negotiations between the U.K. and the EU.

What does any of this have to do with these negotiations? What we have to understand is that a “no deal” Brexit, in which the U.K. leaves the transition period with no trade deal in place with the EU, was always going to be bad for the British economy, at least in the short term. There is a risk that the new border controls that will be imposed as freedom of trade and movement ends will mean significant delays and perhaps shortages of imported food. 

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