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PARIS — Despite the mantra on both sides that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” almost any agreement on future trade relations between the U.K. and the EU would be better than none.
As the tortuous negotiations enter the final strait, it’s worth contemplating just how damaging a breakdown would be — above all for Britain, but also for the rest of Europe and what used to be called “the West.”
Neither side can afford to pile the man-made economic disaster of a cliff-edge rupture — with hefty new tariffs, chaotic border disruptions and a potential “fish war” in the North Sea — on top of the devastating recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Nor can they afford the political acrimony, nationalist rhetoric and polarization that would inevitably engulf relations between Britain and the Continent — and between London and Edinburgh, and London and Dublin — if the negotiations fail.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson can afford this least of all. Already under fire for his government’s ineffective stop-go handling of the coronavirus, from which Britain has suffered the highest death toll in Europe, the prime minister needs to demonstrate competence.
Fears that the U.K. will get too good of a deal are overblown.
Failure to achieve a free-trade arrangement with the U.K.’s biggest economic partner and export market would pitch him into a winter of discontent as supermarket shelves emptied and industrial supply chains broke down.