Fishing, governance, fair competition. They are the three big areas that hinder progress in the negotiations on the relationship of the United Kingdom and the European Union after Brexit. And less than six weeks before the end of the transition period, on December 31, the uncertainty grows as to whether there is political will to seal the agreement or, on the contrary, the immobility of London or Brussels will precipitate the rupture in the wild.
“I think there will be an agreement, if only because we do not need another blow to confidence in the midst of Covid-19. The problem is that it will be a skeletal agreement, free of tariffs and quotas. This type of treaty does not particularly help a country like the United Kingdom, which is basically a service economy, “said Lionel Barber, the veteran former editor of the ‘Financial Times’, in a telematic meeting with members of the Foreign Press Association (FPA ).
A minimal trade deal would be a formula accepted by radical British Eurosceptics. It is also the short-term solution anticipated by currency markets, although 60% of economists recently polled by Reuters believe that a larger deal is still possible. To do this, the Government of Boris Johnson and the EU should take an extra step above their respective red lines or devise a strategy to save the face of the side that contemplates giving in before falling into the abyss.
The Conservative Executive calls for an arrangement that recognizes the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and respects its independence from the EU. The 27th bloc stands united in defending the integrity of the single market, which has guided its dialogue with London since 52% of the British electorate voted in favor of Brexit more than four years ago.
“It can end badly,” admits Barber, who has just published his memoirs of fifteen years in charge of the neoliberal newspaper in ‘The Powerful and the Damned: Private Diaries in Turbulent Times’. He fears that Johnson will succumb to the pressure of Eurosceptic radicals and reject any compromise that could compromise the full sovereignty of the United Kingdom. Our position remains the same. regain control of our money, laws and borders, “said the spokesman for the conservative president on Friday.
Both delegations are determined to continue negotiating, despite the interruption caused by a coronavirus contagion. The EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, went into quarantine days ago and the British team led by David Frost returned home from Brussels. Technical work will continue on electronic communications throughout the week and both parties will resume face-to-face meetings, probably in London, “when everyone is judged safe,” Downing Street said.
The legal text of the treaty is apparently almost complete. Diplomatic sources suggest that 95% of the sections have been agreed upon, while the remaining sections are marked in brackets in the draft document. “We have seen better progress and more movement on important files,” said the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen. The discord, as confirmed, revolves around the access of community fishermen to British fishing grounds, the principles of the so-called ‘fair play’ or framework of equal conditions in both territories and the arbitration mechanism that will supervise the application of the agreement and penalize possible infractions.
Both delegations have teams of up to a hundred professionals, who work at a technical level in the fifteen thematic sections in which the negotiation progresses simultaneously. The process has moved onto the political plane as the Brexit transition countdown approaches. Thus, the Labor spokeswoman for the preparations for the withdrawal from the EU, Rachel Reeves, yesterday asked Johnson to take personal control of the negotiation and obtain a trade agreement. “It’s a question of competence and leadership,” he challenged.
After several unfulfilled dates to conclude the negotiating process, the temporary range from the end of November to next December 10 is now mentioned. It would be the new goal in the race to close the basic terms of an agreement or to activate contingency plans in the face of the breakdown of relations between London and Brussels.