Crucial day of negotiations ahead between EU and Britain

World

Published: 2020-12-13 12:55

Last Updated: 2024-05-22 20:28


Photo: Financial Times
Photo: Financial Times

 

Sunday, the fate of the arduous post-Brexit negotiations is expected to be determined. Either the EU and Britain will announce a failure to negotiate, which is expected to have dire consequences, or say that an agreement is still possible, with only 25 days left before the final separation between the two parties.

All scenarios are possible, including the announcement of an unexpected settlement, but both the EU and Britain seem to think the chances of reaching an agreement are weak. 

A British government source said this weekend, "In its current situation, the European Union offer is still unacceptable."

It will be up to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to decide whether to continue the talks or not, during a phone call Sunday in light of the recent negotiations that may continue throughout the day.

Contact between them will take place at noon Sunday GMT, according to the British Prime Minister.

Chief British negotiator David Frost arrived at the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels on Sunday morning to resume talks, according to correspondents of Agence France-Presse.

The French Secretary of State for European Affairs Clement Bonn warned that if London and Brussels decide to extend the talks again, "this will not exceed a few days, as a maximum. We are now in overtime."

- Settlement Impossibility -

Despite the intensification of the talks, differences remain between the British, who want absolute freedom at the commercial level, and the Europeans, who are keen to protect their vast single market.

The same British government source added, "Any agreement should be fair and respect the basic fact that the United Kingdom will be a sovereign country within three weeks."

In an indication of the high level of tension, the British Ministry of Defense announced that ships belonging to the Royal Navy are in a state of readiness to protect the national fishing areas, as they may record tensions in the event of failure to reach an agreement.

Britain, which will formally withdraw from the European Union on January 31, 2020, will permanently exit the European single market and the customs union by December 31.

Failure to reach an agreement requires that the rules of the World Trade Organization govern trade exchange between Britain and the European Union, with the imposition of customs duties or quotas, which may constitute a new shock to the economy, which is already suffering from the consequences of COVID-19.

Negotiations are stalled over three issues: the access of European fishermen to British waters, the way to settle differences in a future agreement, and the guarantees that the European Union demands in London in the area of competition in exchange for free access to its markets.

- 'Little hope' -

The European Union is ready to give London access to the European market without customs duties or quotas, but in return it wants to ensure that the United Kingdom will not resort to flooding the markets by moving away from European environmental, social and tax standards or those related to official aid.

If that happens, the European Union wants to be able to take quick response measures such as imposing customs duties without having to wait until the dispute is settled within the framework of normal arbitration procedures, in an effort to protect European companies. However, London rejects this outright.

"The European Union considers the protection of the single market a red line. What we have proposed to the United Kingdom respects British sovereignty and can form the basis of an agreement," a European source emphasized.

During a dinner brought together on Wednesday evening in Brussels, they acknowledged again that there were "very divergent" positions. However, they gave the talks an additional three days, hoping to reach an agreement before taking a "final decision" on Sunday.

Von der Leyen and Johnson have been trying for a few days to get the talks out of the dead end.

During a dinner brought together on Wednesday evening in Brussels, they acknowledged again that there were "very divergent" positions. However, they gave the talks an additional three days, hoping to reach an agreement before taking a "final decision" on Sunday.

But they have since made pessimistic statements. "Failure is very likely," Johnson said, while von der Leyen said the hope for an agreement was "very slim."

On a practical level, and in anticipation of the failure to reach an agreement, the European Commission has offered emergency measures aimed at preserving the movement of land and air transport for a period of six months between the two parties, provided that London does the same. The measures also aim to ensure mutual access to the fishing grounds for the ships of both parties in 2021.