Over the last week, Brexit deal negotiations had to be held virtually as the Belgian team, including the chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, were forced to self-isolate for a week, in accordance with the Belgian Covid rules, after one of the members tested positive for Covid 19. As the quarantine period comes to an end, the in-person talks are set to resume on Friday. Barnier is supposed to travel to London as soon as he receives a negative Coronavirus test.
However, whether or not his physical presence during the “decisive days” of negotiations pushes the two parties to come to an agreement is uncertain as strong differences remain over the last three issues.
Barnier to walk out if the UK remains stubborn
During one of the video conference calls between the UK and the EU, Barnier told his British counterpart that further talks in-person, this Friday, would be pointless if the UK does not make any concessions on their demands within the next 48 hours.
The concessions the EU wants the UK to make relate to three issues including state aid, access to fisheries and the standards on labour, social rights, environment, climate change and tax transparency.
With only days to go and very minimal progress on the aforementioned issues, Mr Barnier has expressed his frustration during virtual talks earlier this week. One EU official, when describing how the negotiations have gone so far, replied that “it’s like talking to people who don’t care about having a deal.”
It has been suggested that if the Belgian chief negotiator does decide to walk away from the negotiations due to the political logjam, Boris Johnson will feel pressurised to intervene. Some UK officials believe that, if the UK hope to leave the bloc with a deal, it will be inevitable for the British PM to step in after David Frost gridlocked the talks with his determination to preserve “national sovereignty”,
“We are ready to be creative.” says the EU
Ursula von der Leyen, the European commission president spoke at the European Parliament on Wednesday, highlighting the urgency of the situation by saying there is “very little time ahead of us”.
She told the MEPs; “These are decisive days for negotiations with the United Kingdom,” adding “We will do all in our power to reach an agreement. We’re ready to be creative. But we are not ready to put into question the integrity of the single market, the main safeguard for European prosperity and wealth.”
The EU believes that before an agreement is reached, there need to be mechanisms in place that will swiftly remedy any breach of agreed principles controlling domestic subsidies and ensure consequences if either of the parties in the deal let the standards diverge over time.
What still requires a solution is the question of how to secure common high standards on labour, social rights, environment & climate change, as well as tax transparency. Some EU member states fear the UK has been pushing the commission into making allowances that will benefit the UK marketplace for years to come.
Ursula von der Leyen assured this was not the case and added that they are working to bridge the gaps. On the issue of the fisheries, she called for “predictability” for the fishing industry, year to year, after the UK suggested that an annual negotiation could be held over catches in the UK seas.
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