Brussels / London (dpa) – Under enormous time pressure, Britain and the European Union are still trying to reach an agreement on a trade pact.
After the end of the Brexit transition phase around the turn of the year, it should prevent dramatic economic upheaval on both sides. After a top-level phone call between EU Commissioner von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, negotiators David Frost and Michel Barnier resume the thread of Sunday’s conversation in Brussels. However, the outlook for a breakthrough is weak – both sides noted fundamental conflicts on Saturday.
Johnson and Von der Leyen, after their one-hour call on Saturday night, discovered – as so often before – “significant differences” and returned the baton to their negotiators David Frost and Michel Barnier, who had provisionally given up Friday night. Please try again, we don’t want to give up yet, according to the guideline. It remained unclear whether the scope for concessions will now be greater. Monday evening, the bosses want to talk about the state of affairs again.
There’s a lot at stake: if talks really fail, tariffs and other trade barriers will be created 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 a no-deal Brexit, the economy expects serious disruptions on both sides of the English 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 is to prevent the desired remedy from falling victim to the dreaded traffic chaos. Traffic congestion is also expected with a deal, because additional formalities arise without customs duties.
Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned Boris Johnson against negotiating. “We would start an economic war with Europe that would cost us a lot,” the Labor politician said in the Sky News interview. In this case too, there is little chance of a trade pact with the US. “So Boris Johnson would end up as the most isolated peacetime prime minister with no friends in the world,” said Brown.
The Chair of the Christian Democrats in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, warned Johnson against a no-deal. “He would be sinning against the future of his country if he doesn’t honor an agreement,” Weber told Funke media group newspapers.
There are still three main issues to be contested: a level playing field, fishing and the tools used to penalize 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 revise the regulation after a certain period – a so-called revision clause – are under discussion. Environment and Agriculture Minister George Eustice accused the EU of “grotesque” demands on Sky News on Sunday.
The subject of fishing is of great political importance, especially for France. “If there is an agreement, we will evaluate and analyze the text,” said French Secretary of State for Europe, Clément Beaune, of the Sunday newspaper “Le Journal Du Dimanche”. “However, if the agreement is not good and does not meet our interests, especially the interests of fishermen, we, France, like any other Member State, can veto.” President Emmanuel Macron had previously threatened the veto.
British government officials dismissed progress reports on the fisheries late Sunday evening. “There has been no breakthrough in fish. Nothing new has been achieved today, ”said a British government official. Several UK media had previously reported such progress, citing EU sources.
The talks were in a “very difficult state,” Eustice told the BBC on Sunday. “I think we are in the last days when it will be decided whether an agreement can be reached”.
Preparing for the no-deal case appears to be much higher on the list of priorities for the UK than the negotiating partners in Brussels to vote peacefully: your planned internal market law should be further explosive on Monday as parts of it would undermine already valid EU exit deal . The EU is outraged by the planned breach of contract and has taken legal action. But London will not be deterred and wants to bring the law – after a defeat in the upper house – back to the lower house on Monday with the controversial clauses. “These clauses are very important – especially if we leave the EU without a deal,” stressed Eustice.