Brussels / London (dpa) – In the final stages of negotiations on a Brexit trade pact between the European Union and Great Britain, pessimism spread on Monday. EU negotiator Michel Barnier still sees no decisive progress, diplomats reported.
Irish Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney was not very hopeful either. However, an agreement has not yet been lost. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, chief of the European Commission, want to take stock on Monday evening.
“The outcome is still open,” an EU diplomat said after Barnier briefed the EU ambassador. “The EU is poised to make the final effort to find a fair, sustainable and balanced deal for the citizens of the EU and the UK. It is now up to the UK to choose between such a positive result and a no-deal. “
The British side had previously denied reports that there had been a breakthrough in the controversial fisheries issue over the weekend. This is one of the three bottlenecks. Particularly controversial are the EU’s demand for fair conditions of competition and the tools to punish violations of the planned agreement.
The negotiators are under enormous time pressure. Without a trade deal, there will be tariffs and other trade barriers between Great Britain and the EU around the turn of the year. Then the Brexit transition period will end, in which almost everything has remained the same despite the UK’s departure from the EU at the beginning of the year. The economic break will not come until January 1.
Barnier has been negotiating again with his British colleague David Frost in Brussels since Sunday after a short break. On Saturday evening, von der Leyen and Johnson had called and there were serious differences of opinion. Nevertheless, they agreed to continue the talks. They want to call again on Monday evening.
From an EU perspective, the restart of negotiations until Monday morning had failed. “The news is very pessimistic,” Irish Foreign Minister Coveney told Irish broadcaster RTÉ after a briefing by Barnier on the EU ambassador. “I would say he looks very depressed and cautious about today’s prospect of progress.” According to Coveney, all three main points of contention are still “very problematic”.
The EU offers Britain free trade in goods without tariffs and quantity restrictions – but also without dumping environmental or social standards and subsidies. This is what lies behind the point of fair competition terms – “level playing field” in negotiation jargon. The problem: Great Britain would like to have as few EU directives as possible. On the other hand, the EU does not want its market to be opened up to companies that have to meet lower standards and can therefore produce cheaper.
The second major problem, fishing, is the amount of EU fishermen allowed to catch in UK waters. We are talking about quotas and a clause to review the regulation after a certain period – a so-called review clause. According to EU information, an agreement is not yet in sight.
In addition to the actual content of the negotiations, there is another stumbling block: two UK bills that would partially nullify the EU exit agreement already in place at the beginning of the year. The EU is outraged by the breach of contract that the UK has even admitted. However, the Johnson administration sees the laws as a safety net in the event of a no-deal. On Monday evening she wants to bring the so-called Internal Market Bill with the controversial clauses back to the House of Commons – an insult to the EU.