A shortish Friday afternoon thread on the fire-sale post-Brexit trade deal, you lucky devils.

You've probably already thought of this, so apologies that it's taken me this long to cotton on. 1/
2/ I'd assumed that most sensible nations would hold back from signing trade treaties with post-Brexit UK. The UK's trade position is in flux, and the government are - how shall we put it kindly? - not the most reliable of negotiating partners. Plus - now - COVID.
3/ Why hold back? First, they're in no rush, they are not in a difficult trade position in the same way the UK is, with our pre-existing arrangements all on the scrap-heap. They've time to be thoughtful and negotiate towards what matters to them from a position of no jeopardy.
4/ Also, they recognise the key role the UK-EU relationship represents to the UK, even if the UK doesn't. They'd want to see how that relationship settles before jumping in with both feet.
5/ I'd assumed the negatives would outweigh the positives of getting a desperate UK to agree to market access they'd never normally accept.
However, what if they did jump in and do a deal now?
6/ The UK's current modus operandi is well understood. It is:

A) Make an agreement in a rush, aimed more at short-term political goals than practical domestic needs. Offer or agree to something highly disadvantageous to own interests in order to get positive domestic headlines.
7/ It's a rush because of economic pressure caused by loss of existing trade, because of political need to show progress and benefits of Brexit, because of failure to have any head for detail, because of complete disregard for the groups/industries actually affected.
B) Apply the new agreement in a manner that disadvantages UK even further, due to failure even to acknowledge the shortcomings of the agreement, and certainly not prepare for them (cf the failure to apply the customs checks on imports required by the UK-EU agreement).
C) Repent later, possibly threatening to renege on deal. Blame everybody else. Try to wriggle out.
10/ The thing is, all the while A and B are going on, any partner nation is getting themselves a significant advantage. They might get the UK to agree to accept hormone-injected meat, or market access to healthcare, or freedom of movement, or whatever, for almost no cost.
11/ All they need to do to succeed while protecting their own interests and minimising risks is plan a little better for what they want to achieve than the UK and, right now, frankly that's not going to be difficult.
12/ Because the UK will sign *anything* if it looks good in the press.

Even if the UK tries to wriggle out, the other nation is no worse off than they would have been before the treaty. And the longer they go before they hit that point, the harder it will be for the UK to unpick
13/ If the UK tries to end a treaty that, say, allows the import of dodgy cheap meat, the microwave lasagne makers and fast food chains inside the UK will lobby against it.
14/ Whereas, a couple of years into the treaty, all the domestic meat producers who would have benefited from retaining higher standards will already be out of business, and therefore out of influence. The treaty gums in place.
15/ So here's the realisation I've been struggling towards. Other nations are presumably expecting that at some point there will be adults back in charge of the UK.
16/ And when those adults are back in charge, they will abide by the terms of any treaties the previous bunch of idiots signed, or at least be obliged to negotiate out of them from the position of weakness they are now in.
17/ So there could be significant advantage to other countries to getting Johnson's thumb print on a document now, before more sensible heads arrive to interrupt the fire sale. Negotiate it with somebody untrustworthy, apply it with somebody trustworthy.
18/ And what that means is that any country jumping in early is doing so with all the foregoing in mind, and therefore needs extra caution in handling. (Finding any sign of caution in the current govt's strategy is left as an exercise for the reader.)
19/ Everyone wants to come away with the best deal they can, but that doesn't have to be at the expense of your would-be partner. You could (and should) both gain. But anybody entering the ring now is perhaps thinking of gaining maximum asymmetric advantage at the UK's expense.
20/ But you already knew this. And I've just wasted your time.

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