Under massive time pressure, Great Britain and the European Union are still trying to agree on a trade pact. After the end of the Brexit transition phase at the turn of the year, it is intended to prevent dramatic economic upheavals on both sides. EU Commission chief von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson want to call again on Monday evening to see whether an agreement can be reached at the last minute. The negotiators on both sides, David Frost and Michel Barnier, resumed the thread of talks in Brussels on Sunday.
However, the prospects for a breakthrough are dim – Johnson and von der Leyen had after a phone call on Saturday continues to lament fundamental conflicts, but declared not to give up yet. It remained unclear whether the negotiators would now have greater scope for concessions.
Much is at stake: if the talks actually fail, there will be tariffs and other trade barriers between Great Britain and the continent at the turn of the year. Because then the Brexit transition period will expire, during which everything remained the same despite the UK’s exit from the EU on January 31. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the economy on both sides of the English Channel anticipates severe dislocations. Associations warn of food and drug shortages. It is feared that there will be kilometers of traffic jams in the hinterland of the ferry terminal in Dover and the entrance to the Eurotunnel in Folkestone.
Preparations for mega-jams
According to a report from the Observer The British government is even planning to fly in the recently approved corona vaccine from Mainz-based company Biontech and its US partner Pfizer with military aircraft. This is to prevent the longed-for remedy from falling victim to the feared traffic chaos. Traffic jams are expected even in the event of a deal, because additional formalities will arise without customs duties.
There are still three main issues that are disputed: a level playing field, fisheries and the instruments used to punish violations of the planned agreement. The competitive conditions – the keyword is level playing field – are, among other things, about environmental, social and aid standards. Great Britain would like to have as few guidelines as possible from the EU – for Johnson this is a question of sovereignty. However, the EU wants to prevent competitive advantages for British companies through regular dumping, especially since the desired trade agreement would allow British goods to enter the EU market unpaid and without quantity restrictions.
The second major controversy, fisheries, is the amount EU fishermen are allowed to catch in UK waters. According to insiders, quotas and a clause to review the regulation after a certain period of time – a so-called revision clause – are under discussion. Environment and Agriculture Minister George Eustice accused the EU of “grotesque” demands on Sky News.
No progress on the weekend
UK government officials late Sunday evening rejected reports of progress on the fisheries issue. “There has been no breakthrough in fish. Nothing new has been achieved today,” said a British official. Several British media had previously reported such progress, citing EU sources.
The issue of fisheries is of great political importance for France in particular. “If there is an agreement, we will evaluate and analyze the text,” said France’s 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 serve our interests, especially those of the fishermen, we, France, like any Member State, could veto.” President Emmanuel Macron had previously threatened with the veto.
However, preparing for the no-deal case seems to be much higher up on the list of priorities for the British than voting for the negotiating partners in Brussels: their planned internal market law is likely to provide further fuel, as it is part of the already valid EU – would undermine the exit agreement. The EU is outraged by the planned breach of contract and has taken legal action. But London is not deterred and wants to bring the law back to the House of Commons on Monday with the controversial clauses after a defeat in the House of Lords. “These clauses are very important – especially if we leave the EU without an agreement,” stressed Eustice.