With only more than three weeks left before the end of the Brexit transition period, the negotiations between the two sides on three major issues, such as fisheries, have not yet made breakthroughs. At present, the two sides are making final efforts to bridge their differences and reach a future relationship agreement.
On the evening of December 7th local time, European Commission President von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Johnson talked on the phone again about the future relationship between Europe and Britain.
A brief statement issued after the call said that the terms for the agreement were “not yet available” because the two sides still had major differences on the three key issues of fair play, compliance management and fisheries.
They have asked their respective negotiators and their teams to sort out the outstanding issues so that the two sides can start face-to-face discussions in the next few days.
Negotiate to start the “overtime”
People’s Daily, Brussels, December 8th – On January 31 this year, the United Kingdom officially “Brexit” and then entered an 11-month transition period until December 31 this year.
During the transition period, the UK ceased to be a member of the EU, but remained in the EU Single Market and Customs Union, and, like other member states, abide by all EU rules.
After the end of the transition period, the UK will withdraw from the EU Single Market and Customs Union and implement an independent trade policy.
Since March this year, Europe and Britain have begun negotiations on a future relationship agreement. The British side initially set the deadline for negotiations in mid-October, but it was postponed due to the lack of agreement.
The two sides later hoped to conclude the negotiations in mid-November, but continued to be postponed because their differences were difficult to bridge.
At the end of November, Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator for “Brexit” affairs, led a team to London again to start a new round of intensive negotiations with the British side.
On December 4, Barnier and Frost, the chief negotiator of the British side, issued a joint statement on social media saying that after a week of intensive negotiations, the two sides agreed to suspend the negotiations due to major differences in the fields of fair playing field, performance management and the lack of conditions for an agreement.
Subsequently, the leaders of the two sides came forward to facilitate the resumption of negotiations.
Earlier, European and British leaders issued a joint statement agreeing to restart negotiations on future relations with a trade agreement at the core in Brussels on the 6th, hoping that the negotiating team will “take more efforts” to see if the long-standing dispute can be resolved. Unfortunately, by the evening of the 7th, the two sides were still engaged in a tug-of-war, with little progress.
A diplomat from the EU team told the media.
Belgian Prime Minister De Cro compared the current stage of the negotiations with “overtime” on the football field. Johnson reportedly plans to travel to EU headquarters later this week to meet with von der Leyen.” This will be the final diplomatic effort of European and British leaders to bridge their differences and reach an agreement.
European News commented that the negotiations on future relations between Europe and Britain have entered a “final moment”, and leaders need political courage and a spirit of compromise to get out of the current impasse.
Difficult to solve the differences between the three major issues
The draft agreement on the future relationship between Europe and Britain is 1,800 pages long, covering political, economic, security, social and other fields. At present, the two sides have reached agreement on about 95% of the text of the draft, and the remaining 5% are difficult “hard bones”.
The first is the issue of fisheries. Fisheries have been the main crux of the deadlock in the “Brexit” negotiations. According to the EU Common Fisheries Policy, more than 60% of fishing quotas in British waters belong to continental European countries.
Britain demands a complete recovery of territorial maritime sovereignty after the end of the “Brexit” transition period, while the EU hopes to retain the fishing rights of EU member states’ fishing rights to the maximum extent in British waters.
Judging from the latest negotiation progress, the EU has made concessions on fisheries access, proposing to reduce the EU’s fishing rights share in British waters from the current level by 15% to 18%, equivalent to 120 million euros in annual revenue. However, the proposal was still rejected by the British side.
Nevertheless, France still believes that the EU negotiating team is “too generous” to Britain.
On December 1, French President Macron said, “The right of our fishermen to continue fishing in British waters is guaranteed, which is necessary for a trade agreement.” The British Daily Mail commented that this was Macron’s shoutout to Barnier, and France was not satisfied with his recent concessions on fisheries and pressured him.
“The fishing rights issue is not mainly an economic problem, but a very sensitive political issue.” Peter Guilford, a former EU spokesman for trade affairs, told our reporter that fishing accounts for only 0.03% of Britain’s GDP, which is simply worth mentioning compared with the proportion of the automobile industry, but in the minds of the people who support Brexit, fishing rights mean the return of national sovereignty.
For the North Sea coastal countries represented by France, if their fishermen can no longer fish in British waters as they did in the past 47 years, their livelihoods will be seriously affected, resulting in political pressure.
The second is the issue of a fair playing field. The EU believes that Europe and Britain should abide by a common set of rules and standards. The EU wants the UK to comply with EU rules on workers’ rights, environmental regulations and state aid. Britain said that the goal of Brexit is to get rid of following common rules and re-establish national sovereignty.
The two sides are in a state of serious differences on this issue.
Finally, the issue of performance management. The British government announced the internal market bill in September, which involves provisions for Northern Ireland, which are considered to be above the “Brexit” agreement.
The EU questioned the violation of the “Brexit” agreement and international law, and said that the EU would not ratify any free trade agreement if the UK did not modify the relevant provisions. However, the British side refused to modify it on the grounds of sovereignty.
“Brexit” uncertainty persists
If a trade agreement cannot be reached during the transition period, EU-UK trade will return to the WTO framework from January 1, 2021. Tariff and non-tariff barriers may lead to the rise of many commodity prices and cause chaos to supply chains in Europe and beyond Europe.
The UK Budget Responsibility Office said that a “no-deal Brexit” will seriously drag down the British economy, causing the growth rate of the British economy to decline by about 2% in 2021, and the longer-term economic losses will reach 4% of GDP.
“Whether an agreement can be reached or not, the future relationship between Europe and Britain will change profoundly.” Fabian Zuleg, chief economist of the European Policy Center, an EU think tank, told our reporter that a “no-deal Brexit” will make this change more destructive and costly.
“Johnson announced that he would go to Brussels for an interview with Vonder Leyen, sending a signal that he was willing to make some concessions.” Zuleg said that if the British side softens its position, it is still expected to reach an agreement within the deadline.
David Henning, an expert on British issues at the European Center for International Political and Economic Research, another EU think tank, believes that Johnson visited the EU headquarters to reach an agreement, but he also wants to seek greater concessions from the EU.
The EU summit is scheduled for December 10, when EU leaders hope to see the draft agreement. After the consideration and adoption of the EU summit, the draft agreement will also need to be considered and adopted by the European Parliament and the parliaments of EU member states.
Public opinion generally believes that if Europe and Britain miss this time window again, EU member states and the United Kingdom need to seize the time to prepare for a “no-deal Brexit”.