EU and UK Schedule new Post-Brexit Trade Talk Rounds
As the clock ticks down for Brussels and London to come to a final agreement before the 31 December deadline, both sides published a timetable for new post-Brexit trade talks. Comprising three rounds, the talks will kick off again next week on April 20, followed by negotiations on May 11 and June 1.
The timetable was released on Wednesday following a video conference between the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, and his British counterpart David Frost.
The talks have been interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, which forced Barnier and Frost into isolation after they were tested positively for Covid-19, while UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been hospitalised with prolonged fever symptoms.
But even before the Covid-19 crisis, progress in the negotiations had stalled. Although both the EU and UK side insisted in a joint statement that previous talks had been “useful to identify all major areas of divergence and convergence”, and acknowledged the need for further discussion to achieve “real, tangible progress in the negotiations by June”, Brussels has had doubts over the feasibility of concluding a final trade treaty by December 31.
Under the EU-UK Brexit agreement, the transition period of nominally one year can be extended for two more years until 2022. However, London has made it clear from the beginning that it will not seek an extension of the deadline, in spite of the EU’s warning that trade deals usually take years to hammer out.
There is still a lot to clarify, not least the final form the trade deal between the bloc and the United Kingdom should take. Brussels is pushing hard for one overarching structure to govern bilateral relations, while Number 10 prefers to negotiate several packages across 11 key domains, such as fisheries, security and justice policy and energy.
Fisheries in particular is a hotly contested topic and the UK has been less than forthcoming with EU leaders in providing a draft legal text on the matter – a chapter which the EU hopes to close come June 1. Officials in Brussels suspect London of deliberately delaying progress on tricky issues like fisheries in order to force the EU’s hands under the pressure of tight deadlines.
The UK has also played for time on other chapters. Draft legal texts concerning energy and justice were submitted to Brussels, but the British negotiation team has prohibited Michel Barnier from circulating these documents among EU member states, forcing them to rely on summaries and analysis from Barnier’s team.
If no final deal is agreed by December 31, 2020, the UK will crash out of the market and revert to WHO trade rules, including the use of tariffs and quotas.