Questor July 30, 2020

The last week of July, which we are now in, was supposed to be the latest date by which the terms of a settlement of the new UK/EU post Brexit relationship was to be reached, if there was to be sufficient time for the 27 member states and, in some cases, sub state bodies to agree to the negotiated terms of the deal .

So, what has been achieved? What has happened and what was held up an accelerated process to close the deal?

Nothing! Yes, that’s right, nothing! So now we move to the next deadline - supposedly in September.

Boris Johnson had hoped the outline of a post-Brexit free trade deal would be nailed down this month, but the EU’s refusal to reach agreement on the more straightforward areas before tackling the thorniest issues is blamed for “paralysis”.

Britain now wants both sides to get to work on the texts of agreements, ahead of the end of Brexit transition phase at the close of the year.

Britain insists that, now the EU’s epic budget negotiations are wrapped up, there are “no excuses not to knuckle down” in pursuit of a Canada-style trade agreement. In addition to the budget, the EU has agreed the post-coronavirus recovery fund which if the UK had remained a member, it could have been expected to make a contribution of around €60bn.

It is “now unlikely” the UK and EU will agree to a free trade deal before the 31 December deadline, according to the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

The two sides met last week for formal talks in London for the first time, after a number of virtual negotiating rounds over the past few months.

The deadline for a deal is 31 December, but both sides have said the deal needs to be agreed months before that to get it ratified in time.

The two largest areas of contention are still EU fishing access to UK waters and business competition regulations, known as the level playing field.

Barnier said there had been “no progress” on these two areas and that a deal was still “far away” from being struck as he hit out at the UK during a recent press conference.

“The UK did not show a willingness to break the deadlock,” he said, “The UK has not shown the same level of engagement to find solutions, respecting the EU fundamental principles and interests. By its current refusal to commit to the condition of fair and open competition, and a fair and balanced agreement on fisheries, the UK makes a trade agreement at this point unlikely.”

Frost took a more diplomatic tone, saying that “considerable gaps remain in the most difficult areas” and that “our principles in these areas are not simple negotiating positions but expressions of the reality that we will be a fully independent country”.

But he also said a no trade deal exit from the EU’s single market and customs union was a real possibility now, but that an agreement could still be reached by September.

Barnier’s comments sparked concern in some quarters, who argue that the UK was at risk of “losing its competitive advantage as a European trading hub and that UK exporters will be hit with a cost shock selling goods into the EU due to new border requirements.”