With only the last 20 days left before the end of the Brexit transition period, in order to break the deadlock in the negotiations that have dragged on for nearly a year, the United Kingdom and the European Union decided to cut the mess quickly.
After going to Brussels on December 9 to interview European Commission President von der Leyen, British Prime Minister Johnson decided to set a deadline for Brexit negotiations on Sunday (13th). At that time, the two sides will make a “resolute decision” on the future relationship. If they can’t come up with a negotiated agreement, they can only leave the EU without an agreement.
On the same day, Johnson and von der Leyen held three hours of talks without issuing a joint statement, and Johnson returned to London that night. The Financial Times pointed out that from these details, it can be judged that there was a “heacious conflict” between the two sides in the talks.
After the meeting, von der Leyen said that after this “frank” dialogue, the two sides had a clear understanding of each other’s positions, but they were still “far away”. She will brief EU leaders on the outcome of the talks at the European Commission’s extraordinary summit on the 10th. Sources said that the two-day summit is not expected to make any decision on Brexit negotiations.
A member of the Johnson team revealed that little substantive progress had been made in the talks. Another EU source said that the two sides still believe that it is possible to reach an agreement.
The differences between the two sides remain difficult to bridge: the EU wants to ensure that Brexit will not harm the single market, while the United Kingdom wants to fully recover the autonomy to formulate policies and regulations.
Before dinner with von der Leyen, Johnson tweeted that whether the negotiations were successful or not, Britain would flourish as an independent country. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, Johnson clearly told von der Leyen and Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator for Brexit, that he could not accept the part of the agreement that binds British and EU rules. The EU hopes that the UK can follow EU rules in terms of financial assistance, labor and environmental regulations to maintain a level playing field.
Negotiations will take place in Brussels in the next few days. An EU diplomat said that the UK and the European Union have entered the sprint stage of negotiations, but the brakes and steering wheels are locked, so it is difficult to predict what the situation will change before Sunday.
The British House of Commons is scheduled to start a Christmas recess on December 21. However, Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the British House of Commons, said that if necessary, the adjournment date could be postponed to Christmas Eve to allow for a timely vote on the Brexit bill.
The level playing field and fishing rights remain the biggest points of disagreement between the two sides. Despite the previous offer of Britain’s willingness to concession on fishing rights and reach an access agreement with the European Union as a post-Brexit transitional measure, it is still difficult for the two sides to reach agreement on the specific content.
Before going to Brussels on the 9th, Johnson met with members of the House of Commons to clarify the “bottom line” of his negotiations, the core of which is British sovereignty and legislative freedom.
Johnson said that the EU wants to make Britain the only sovereign country in the world that has no absolute control over its own waters. He also accused Brussels of seeking the right to take punitive and countermeasures in the case of deviation from EU regulations by the British side. Johnson refers to the “ratchet clause” proposed by the European Union, which forces both sides to maintain similar environmental and labor regulations. If either party breaks the fair competition rules, it will be cut off its access to the market.
David Frost, the chief representative of the Brexit negotiations, had previously agreed that the existing standards of fair competition-related regulations would not be lowered, but refused to keep pace with the EU’s standard update.
Interestingly, the dinner menu in Brussels on the 9th is mainly seafood, the appetizer is scallops, and the main course is halibut with mashed potatoes. Both are the main catches in British waters. In the absence of a negotiated Brexit, scallops exported from the UK to the EU will be subject to a 20% tariff.
German Chancellor Merkel warned on the 9th that if Britain and Europe fail to find a way to minimize the risk of unfair competition, the EU will accept the result of no agreement. She stressed that it is important to ensure the integrity of the EU single market.
Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin also told his parliament on the 9th that the negotiations were on the verge of collapse. Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Foreign Minister, believes that the two sides can only reach some basic agreements in the end, but it is difficult to break through the immediate obstacles.
After 31 December 2020, the Northern Ireland region will remain in the EU single market and comply with EU regulations to avoid the emergence of “hard borders” between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, endangering the stability of the Irish island.
With little time left, the EU has begun to prepare for the worst. An EU official revealed that the EU may introduce a series of emergency measures in the near future to avoid confusion caused by the breakdown of negotiations, such as guaranteeing the continuation of cross-strait sea, land and air transportation beyond January 1 next year, and extending the validity of aviation safety certificates issued by the European Aviation Safety Agency to ensure that some British-made British aircraft on EU aircraft. Parts and components can continue to be used. However, these measures may be valid for only six months.
The EU also plans to establish a legal framework to maintain a fishing rights-sharing mechanism for 12 months after Brexit until a fisheries agreement is reached between the two sides. In addition, the EU is ready to spend 5 billion euros to help the countries and industries most affected by Brexit tide over difficulties.
But Barnier has refused to announce the plan to EU member states, fearing that it will have a negative impact on the negotiations.