London / Brussels (dpa) – The planned Brexit trade pact between the European Union and Great Britain is hanging by a thread.
Almost four weeks before the end of the transitional phase of Brexit, there are still decisive differences, as EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced after a phone call. The negotiations of the chief negotiators in Brussels continue on Sunday – probably the last attempt. Von der Leyen and Johnson want to take stock on Monday evening.
Chief negotiators Michel Barnier and David Frost had interrupted their talks on Friday evening and said the conditions for an agreement had not been met. As a result, Von der Leyen and Johnson joined forces at board level on Saturday afternoon. But even after that, no movement was discernible in terms of content.
Both had acknowledged progress in many areas, it said in a statement. Nonetheless, “significant differences” remained in three main areas: a level playing field, fisheries and the tools to penalize violations of the envisaged agreement.
“Both sides underlined that there will be no agreement without these issues being resolved,” he said. The differences are serious. But the negotiations will take place again in Brussels on Sunday. EU negotiator Barnier wrote on Twitter: “We will see if there is a way forward.”
After leaving the EU in January, Britain is also leaving the internal market and customs union at the end of the year. Then there is an economic pause. Without a trade pact, there will be tariffs and high trade barriers between Great Britain and the EU from January. The economy on both sides fears upheavals – in the midst of the Corona crisis. Since an agreement has yet to be ratified, there are only a few days left for an agreement.
Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin welcomed the announced continuation of the negotiations. “An agreement is in everyone’s interest,” Martin writes on Twitter. “Everything must be done to reach a deal.” The EU member Ireland is particularly affected by Brexit. The EU wants to avoid a hard border with the British province of Northern Ireland, as this could create new political tensions and violence.
The SPD Brexit expert in the European Parliament, Bernd Lange, had already told the German news agency before Johnson’s phone call with von der Leyen, “It’s all about the button.” The British side fundamentally rejects instruments to enforce a level playing field.
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. Quotas and a clause to review the regulation after a specified period (review clause) are under discussion, said Lange.
The subject 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. It was initially unclear whether London wanted to keep it.