Sacrifices were made, but this Brexit deal is closer to what the UK wanted than the Europeans
The European Union's chief negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier, and the British negotiator, David Frost, at the start of the post-Brexit trade agreement - Oliver Hoslet / Pool via REUTERS
Britain has been forced to make concessions, but the final trade deal with Brexit comes far closer to meeting Britain's demand for a Canadian-style deal than the EU's desired trade partnership.
From the moment Lord David Frost was named chief negotiator, sovereignty was embedded in Britain's strategy for negotiating the trade deal.
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Great Britain could no longer be subject to any foreign power and must be able to set its own rules independently of Brussels. If Lord Frost fails to achieve that goal, he made it clear to his team and the Brexit point would be lost.
This decision has consequences for future trade relations with the EU. It will never be as easy or as smooth as it was when Britain was a member. It also meant giving up the temptation to become a rule maker without having a say in EU rules and regulations in exchange for easier trade and more money.
The dust of the negotiations still clears, but some of Lord Frost's victories are already clear.
The European Court of Justice will not play a role in the trade deal or directly affect UK courts.
Future UK governments will be free to deviate from EU standards, provided they accept that the EU can take remedial measures such as tariffs to ensure a level playing field for fair competition.
The UK has regained control of access to its waters at the expense of agreeing a transition period of five and a half years for EU fishermen to adapt. Thereafter, the objective of the annual negotiations on fishing opportunities in the seas will be achieved. The quota guaranteed to EU fishermen has been the subject of long and heated arguments, but there is no denying that the UK fishing industry is getting a shot in the arm.
Britain will leave the single market and customs union as promised, which means it can make its own trade deals and end free movement.
The EU had reason to be optimistic after pressuring Theresa May officials to negotiate the divorce treaty. Michel Barnier ousted no fewer than three Brexit secretaries and one prime minister before the withdrawal agreement was finally ratified.
The mandate of Mr Barnier and his opening negotiating positions were correspondingly strong. The EU asked the European Court of Justice to monitor the continuation of the EU subsidy law in Great Britain. It called for a dynamic alignment of state aid, which would mean that Britain would accept EU law on a grand scale, as well as evolution clauses on environmental, tax and labor laws. This would allow the UK to adapt its laws to Brussels over time.
These demands for "a level playing field" were seen as crucial for the EU Member States. They were concerned that the UK would use Brexit to scrap and burn EU rules and undercut Brussels standards for an unfair competitive advantage.
Most egregiously, EU member states insisted that their fishing boats should continue to have access to UK waters under exactly the same conditions as the Commons Fisheries Policy, as if Brexit had never happened. Even Mr Barnier found it difficult to defend this position at times, describing it as "maximalist".
Lord Frost, not a fan of the withdrawal agreement, was determined to turn the European Commission away from its complacent view of Britain as an outgoing member state. He would not make the same mistake as his predecessors by allowing the EU to determine the order of talks, which was the basis for the Commission's triumph in the negotiations on the withdrawal agreement.
From now on, the EU must regard the United Kingdom as an equal state, regardless of the asymmetry in the dispute with the much larger bloc and the 460 million single market behind it at the negotiating table.
The principle informed every decision made by the United Kingdom during the months of torturous trade talks and set the narrative for the negotiations. At times, it threw a Brussels that was not yet convinced of its victory in the negotiations on the Brexit withdrawal agreement out of hand.
Brussels wanted the three major problems of fisheries, guarantees of a level playing field and enforcement of the agreement to be settled first. Britain argued that the big stuff was always left in trade talks until the last time. After an all-powerful argument with Brussels, Lord Frost finally prevailed.
So successful was the message of sovereignty that it was co-opted by Michel Barnier. He argued that the EU must have the sovereign right to regulate access to its market.
This ultimately unlocked the deal. The UK could diverge and have control of its waters.
In return, the EU would have the power to strike back with trade measures and block access to the single market if it felt it was being undercut or frozen out of UK waters.
These measures are regulated by arbitration in independent committees and not by unilateral decisions of the European Commission and not by decisions based on EU law. The sovereignty of both sides would be respected. It is a sign of how successfully Lord Frost set the story and shaped the second phase of the Brexit negotiations.
Brussels wanted a full and close trade relationship covered by an overarching contract that would have retained the supremacy of its regulatory tractor beam.
The final agreement does not preserve the legal ties that still exist between the UK and the EU over 47 years of membership.
Sacrifices were made. Britain would have preferred better access to criminal databases, continued recognition of British laboratories as hubs for testing against EU standards and rules that would have made it possible to count products made with imported products as British.
Critics will always compare the new deal to EU membership, but this ship sailed at 11pm on January 31st.
Crucially, the new relationship avoids the economic damage of WTO no-deal terms, the "ground zero" alternative after the UK left the EU on January 31st.
It replaces it with a new relationship that could make the UK poorer in the short term and put a new economic and regulatory competitor on the EU's doorstep.
Sovereignty was regained. It is now up to the British governments after Brexit to prove that the price paid was worth it.
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