London / Brussels (dpa) – Negotiations on a trade pact between the European Union and Great Britain will continue on Sunday despite major differences. The negotiating partners announced this on Saturday evening.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had reached an agreement in a telephone conversation the following evening. Both want to take stock on Monday evening.
Both had recognized that the negotiations had made many progress so far. 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 no agreement will be possible without these issues being resolved,” said a written statement. The differences are serious. Nevertheless, it was agreed that the negotiating teams would resume their talks in Brussels on Sunday.
On Friday evening, chief negotiators Michel Barnier and David Frost interrupted their talks after an intensive week of negotiations and declared that the conditions for an agreement had not been met.
After leaving the EU in January, Britain is also leaving the internal market and customs union at the end of the year. Only then does the economic rupture occur. Without a trade pact, there will be tariffs and high trade barriers between Great Britain and the EU from January.
The SPD Brexit expert in the European Parliament, Bernd Lange, had 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. But there could be no agreement at any cost.
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. The EU, on the other hand, wants to avoid competitive advantages for UK businesses through regular dumping, especially since the desired trade agreement would allow UK goods to enter the EU market unpaid and without quantity restrictions.
On the other hand, Brexit expert Lange saw opportunities for agreement on the second important issue of fisheries. This concerns the amount of fish that EU fishermen are allowed to catch in British waters. Quotas and a clause to review the regulation after a specified period (review clause) are under discussion, said Lange.
Especially for the EU coastal states France, Belgium and the Netherlands, but also Germany, fishing is of great political importance. 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.