Prof Gavin Barrett, Jean Monnet Professor of European Constitutional and Economic Law at the Sutherland School at UCD told the Killarney Economic Conference that both the UK and the EU had very different priorities to economic concerns in their negotiations.
He also said the Brexit negotiations are unique in terms of international trade deals, “in that neither party has economic gain as their primary aim.”
“ It’s pretty clear that both sides are going to end up poorer because trade is going to be negatively affected and less trade means less wealth,” he said.
Prof Barrett said that it was clear from the UK perspective that its priority was not trade as it was “getting out of the best international trade deal in the entire world” but its priorities were instead reducing migration, increasing trade with non-EU countries and increasing sovereignty.
But he believed that as a consequence, the UK does not have the same power to get better trade deals than the EU and he expected the UK to have to “start running just to stand still” and it will have to strike a hard bargain to match the trade deals the EU gets during its transition period to exit.
He said that the £350 million (€394m) a week figure which pro-Brexit campaigners said the UK would save by exiting the EU was always a fictional figure but whatever the UK did pay, the EU was simply “an entry fee to the lucrative single market”.
Prof Barrett also suggested that reduced migration from within the EU to the UK would also hit the UK economy and whatever deals the UK reaches with countries outside the EU are likely to include clauses requiring increased migration rights.
The EU too is not concerned with prioritising maximised trade in its negotiations with the UK and instead of seeking an economically optimal solution, is in fact seeking a political optimal solution as it seeks to continue to survive as a viable market.
“The EU has its own red line issues and one of these is that it can’t destroy itself and that means it can’t give the benefits of the single European market to a state that is not willing to pay the usual membership fee with all that entails – primacy of the law, financial contributions and a shared approached to decision making.
“It’s not that the EU wants to punish the UK for leaving but that if it gives the UK what it wants – cut price access to the tastiest parts of the single market, everyone else will want the same deal.
“Every major political leader in Europe has a eurosceptic party looking over their shoulder, the National Front in France, the AfD in Germany and the Five Star Movement in Italy all waiting to hit them over the head with any deal the EU gives the UK, saying we want the same.”
Prof Barrett said that it was clear from the history of international trade deals that they are not evenly balanced negotiations and the weaker party coming to the talks comes as the supplicant as they need the deal more.
It was a feature of the Anglo-Irish Free Trade deal of the 1960s and nothing in the Brexit talks to date suggest that they are in any way different with the EU getting its way on each of the points such as the scheduling and structuring of the various phases of the UK’s exit, he said.