This is being trailed as some sort of come down from the European Union over Brexit and the UK’s ability to organise trade deals. It’s actually just an admission of obvious reality. We can negotiate and sign whatever deals we like whenever we desire. What we cannot do is have new trade treaties that come into effect while we’re still inside the EU. That’s as it always has been and is now. To understand this it’s necessary only to read the following:
Britain will be free to sign trade deals during the Brexit transition period without permission from the European Union after a climbdown by Brussels, The Times has learnt.
EU negotiators have accepted the UK’s demand that it should be able to pursue an independent trade policy while remaining inside the customs union and single market.
Publicly, the EU’s negotiating guidelines still state that Britain will not be able to implement trade deals “unless authorised to do so by the union”. Behind closed doors the position taken by Michel Barnier, the bloc’s chief negotiator, is understood to have softened significantly. The latest draft of a potential transition deal says that Britain will be able to both negotiate and sign trade deals during the period.
It has always been true that we cannot “implement” anything while in. Also it’s always been true that we can talk to whom we like about whatever, scribble on bits of paper to our heart’s content too, while still in. We’ve always been allowed to negotiate and sign, just not to bring into practice.
This isn’t a climb down nor a concession, this is just a recognition of reality.