On 13 March 2020, both the BBC and the Guardian newspaper reported that they had seen a draft EU trade treaty with the UK that the EU Commission had circulated the previous evening to the 27 EU member states.

The draft treaty  runs to 441 pages and, although it has many blanks and placeholder marks, it contains many detailed points which are known to be at odds in some cases with the current UK position. These reportedly include:-

  •  Level playing field proposals on competition, taxation, labour and social protection, and the environment;
  •  Fishery proposals, which provide for access by EU boats to British waters, with annual negotiations;
  •   Co-operation on data exchange and extradition, if the UK continues to be bound by the European Convention on Human Rights.

The draft EU treaty apparently proposes alignment by the UK with EU state aid rules and for British courts to be bound by the rulings of the European Court of Justice on matters of EU law. These proposals are known to be particularly hard to swallow, so far as the UK is concerned.

On governance-type issues, the draft treaty provides for the setting up of a joint partnership council with 16 subcommittees ( including one devoted to the so-called level playing field).

On fishing, the EU is reported to have rowed back a little from the language of the EU Common Fisheries Policy based on fixed  fishing quotas set on the basis of historical fishing patterns and  acknowledges the UK demand for fishing quotas to be fixed on the basis of scientific advice and for there to be annual negotiations.

In other areas, the EU has not moved from well-known stated positions.

What, therefore , is the point of the EU putting forward a draft treaty which is known to be unacceptable to the UK, even though the UK is reported to be about to do the same thing in reverse with the draft treaty text that the UK has apparently drawn up?

It is something to do with "first mover advantage" but it also genuinely appears to reflect the EU position, which is that the EU genuinely envisages a close relationship with the UK having regard to the current close economic and security ties  between the EU and the UK. The UK on the other hand wants to have a free hand in its own affairs.

From a lawyer's perspective, it must be a good thing that the EU appears to have invested much time and effort in producing the background material and paperwork which will be necessary to underpin any trade deal that is eventually agreed between the two sides. In a sense, it may not matter that at this stage the EU and the UK are far apart in their perceptions of what a trade deal between the two of them should look like. The important thing is that the two sides should genuinely engage.

That most sublime and well-travelled of  English Renaissance poets, John Donne, wrote in his  book of " Devotions upon Emergent Occasions";-

"No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

These words are particularly apt in this time of Coronavirus and , whatever the game short or long that the EU and the UK play in their current trade negotiations, one can only hope that humankind will be the winner.