Professor Simon Usherwood has a crack at considering the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement in light of the two side’s starting positions back in March.


First published in December 2020.


A couple of caveats as we head off:

  • I have read what I can of the text, but I am relying on others’ analysis
  • However, any and all errors are mine
  • I miss the clarity of the Withdrawal Agreement text [sic]

The graphic maps out how much the outcome appears to map to each side’s preferences, as set out in their opening positions.


While the picture does seem to point to something closer to EU ideas, this needs important warnings, as you will see.

So let’s run through the headings.

By the way, the headings come from this summary I did back at the start, looking at what appeared to be the key issues:

The legal basis went the EU’s way to try and avoid a mixed agreement (but let’s see if any of the EU27 come back on this), but while it is a clear win, note that the UK didn’t have a formal view on this, so...

(yes, I know legal basis matters, but the UK side hasn’t evinced necessary level of engagement on this for it to become a substantial issue)

More important is the governance.

It is effectively a consolidation document, albeit with a couple of riders for information security and civil nuclear cooperation, plus a world of exceptions within the text. However, also lots of scope for more cooperation in the future, so hits EU needs more.

Dispute settlement is tricky. The basic mechanism is like the Withdrawal Agreement’s (I’ll tweet later on this), but with many exceptions and no CJEU role this time, so concessions on both sides.

Territorial scope wasn’t a problem at the start, and wasn’t at the end: Gibraltar was never likely to be included. However, I will note that Crown Dependencies and Oversea Territories also didn’t get included, so it depends how you read the UK intention to act on their behalf.

So far, so general. The EU has set the main lines, but the UK has scored some important text too.

Boris Johnson & Ursula von der Leyen. | Flickr - Number 10

Let’s dive into the substantive areas now.

Trade in goods meets the joint zero-zero intention, even if hedged by some scope for other kinds of duties the Level Playing Field floats alongside, if not necessarily to the EU’s ambition.

Trade in services is very minimal and promissory, so while you can argue both got what they wanted, that is not much, which will be a problem for the UK services sector.

Fish is tricky, since while there is the longer phasing-in of reduced EU access followed by annual negotiations, that is balanced by the possibility of trade barriers should EU quota drop thereafter. Read John Lichfield for more on this:

Likewise the Level Playing Field isn’t that clear. There has been some unpacking of different elements, some with more enforceability, and the EU did give way on state aid.

So the EU gets a reasonable level of confidence about this, but the UK has pushed back in some areas.

Read Steve Peers’s mammoth thread on this element (and all the other elements, to be honest):

Security cooperation is like services: fine words on both sides, but really rather thin. The EU held firm on non-access to sensitive databases, even as the need to cooperation close to membership remains. Another area for future work, one senses.

And bringing up the rear, a very short list of other areas of cooperation the UK seems to have taken this purely on a narrow cost-benefit basis, with concern about multiannual commitments. Again, one that will get revisited by ever new UK governments.

As an aside, if you will like a great discussion of why non-participation in Erasmus is a bad move, check out Paul James Cardwell’s thread yesterday:

So back to the tl;dr: As others have noted, this looks like you would have expected – the bigger side gets more out of it. However, beyond that, this is not a necessarily stable model, so expect it to evolve for many years yet.


Much of this is about continuing interaction and negotiation, quite apart from the options to do new things, so it is only a question of time before the next bout of talking about ‘Europe’ in Westminster.

In sum, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement gives the two sides a set of tools, but it remains to be seen what they do with these.🔷



Further Reading:



Professor Simon Usherwood, Professor in Politics, University of Surrey. All aspects of Brexit and EU-UK relations, plus some learning and teaching.





[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 29 December 2020 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Shutterstock/Ink Drop.)