Groundhog Day for Brexit talks

Some things never change.

At a solo press conference following a round of Brexit talks in Brussels, the EUs chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned the U.K. may not get a deal if London continues to dispute the EUs proposed terms.

This was not just the message of a visibly annoyed Barnier on Friday — as he spoke after the second round of negotiations on future relations between the EU and the U.K. — it was also his message in February 2018, when then Prime Minister Theresa May had a list of objections to the terms of the transition period. And the EUs chief negotiator had the same message in July 2018 on Mays white paper and at a press conference in August 2018 on the U.K.s backstop plan.

So understandably, for many Fridays message felt like Groundhog Day.

“Its exactly that, and it will be the same after the third round,” one EU official said.

They cant even agree what kind of deal they are aiming for. While the U.K. is looking for looser arrangements, the EU wants a comprehensive deal covering all areas.

Raoul Ruparel, a former senior Brexit adviser to the British government, agreed. “We did see these at points in the first phase where there were quite a few rows in the negotiations, particularly early on when Barnier came out and just said basically the same things and called for progress. And it wasnt until later on that things started to move.”

Political Brexit

The U.K.s June 2016 Brexit referendum set in train a series of events that led to the fall of a prime minister, a general election and the most complex task for the U.K. government since the unraveling of the British empire. So when current Prime Minister Boris Johnson lived up to his promise to “Get Brexit done” when the U.K. stopped being a member of the EU on January 31, many were relieved.

But as Barnier said Friday, the “political Brexit” has to be followed by an “economic Brexit” when the transition period finishes at the end of this year. The EUs chief negotiator slammed the U.K. on Friday for a lack of progress in the talks on a deal on the future relationship, which goes beyond trade and also covers sectors such as transport, energy, law enforcement and financial services. “The U.K. cannot refuse to extend the Brexit transition period and at the same time slow down discussion on important areas,” Barnier said.

The coronavirus has delayed talks and shifted them online. That made a negotiating timeframe that was already deemed improbably nearly impossible. Barnier stressed a deal is now even more important to “limit the shock that the U.K.s departure from the single market and customs union will entail in any case in the midst of the terrible economic crisis that is forecast due to the coronavirus crisis.”

However, on the most sensitive issues, both sides acknowledge that at the end of the second round only “limited progress was made in bridging the gaps.”

They cant even agree what kind of deal they are aiming for. While the U.K. is looking for looser arrangements, the EU wants a comprehensive deal covering all areas.

Barnier mentioned four areas in particular “in which the progress this week was disappointing,” while at the same time stressing how important these areas are for Brussels. EU capitals have made very clear that Barnier can only negotiate an ambitious trade deal if it includes provisions on level playing field, designed to ensure the U.K. cant undercut the bloc, and a deal on fisheries. “That should be crystal clear to the U.K.,” Barnier said Friday.

Across the Channel, the U.K. said its only able to make process on fisheries “on the basis of the reality that the U.K. will have the right to control access to its waters at the end of this year,” according to a Downing Street spokesperson. London wants a separate fisheries agreement in line with the EUs current fisheries deal with Norway and will wait until it is clear that the EU is moving from the status quo on fisheries to put forward a legal text on this topic.

The U.K. also disagrees with the EUs position on level playing field and argues that no other free-trade agreement goes that far. A Downing Street spokesperson also said that “the detail of the EUs offer on goods trade falls well short of recent precedent in FTAs it has agreed with other sovereign countries.”

Whats next?

There are still two negotiating rounds before the two sides must decide by the end of June whether enough progress has been made or if an extension to the transition period is required. The U.K. stressed again this week that it wont request an extension.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Downing Streets daily press cRead More – Source