Brussels / London (dpa) – After a one-day break and a top-level phone call, EU and UK negotiators will resume talks on a Brexit trade pact on Sunday.
EU negotiator Michel Barnier and his British counterpart David Frost broke off talks on Friday and called their bosses on the spot. That already raised the hope that a deal was imminent and could now be crossed the finish line at the highest level. But this hope was dashed.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson noted only “significant differences” and returned the baton to the negotiators after their talks on Saturday. It remained unclear whether the possibilities for concessions will now be greater. Von der Leyen and Johnson want to speak again on Monday about the state of affairs.
Should talks fail, there will be tariffs and other trade barriers between Britain and the continent around the turn of the year. Because then the Brexit transition period will end, in which everything has remained the same despite the UK’s departure from the EU on January 31. In the event of a no deal, the economy expects major upheavals on both sides of the Channel. It is feared that there will be miles of traffic jams in the hinterland of the ferry terminal in Dover and the entrance to the Eurotunnel in Folkestone.
In fact, according to a report by the Observer, the UK government is planning to fly in the corona vaccine recently approved in the country by Mainz company Biontech and its US partner Pfizer with military jets. This should avoid delays in the delivery of the product due to Brexit. Traffic congestion is also expected with a deal, because additional formalities arise without customs duties.
The Chairman of the Christian Democrats in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, warned Johnson not to let the negotiations break. “He would be sinning against the future of his country if he doesn’t honor an agreement,” Weber told Funke media group newspapers, adding, “A solution is possible.” But it is also clear that there is no agreement at any price. The integrity of the EU internal market must not be jeopardized.
The main arguments relate to three issues: a level playing field, fisheries and the tools to punish violations of the planned agreement.
The conditions of competition – the keyword is a level playing field – include environmental, social and aid standards. Britain would like to have as few EU directives as possible – for Johnson this is a matter of sovereignty. However, the EU wants to avoid competitive advantages for UK businesses from regular dumping, especially since the desired trade agreement would allow UK goods to enter the EU market unpaid and without quantity restrictions.
The second major problem, fishing, is the amount of EU fishermen allowed to catch in UK waters. According to insiders, quotas and a clause to review the scheme after a certain period (review clause) are under discussion.
The subject of fishing is of great political importance, especially for France. French President Emmanuel Macron again this week pushed for French fishermen’s access to British waters. He said he would only agree to a contract if his country’s long-term interests are safeguarded. This was seen as a threat of a right of veto.
Another major obstacle to the negotiations is the planned UK Internal Market Act, which would undermine parts of the EU Withdrawal Treaty already in force. The British government announced on Monday that it would reinstate the controversial clauses in the bill. They had previously been removed from the House of Lords. The EU is outraged by the planned breach of contract. Another bill will follow on Tuesday. The so-called finance law should also conflict with the exit agreement.