Post-Brexit Trade Talks Enter Crucial Month with Smalls Chances of Breakthrough
The “level playing field” remains the main bone of contention.
June 2020 is set to be the decisive month for the post-Brexit trade talks between the EU and the UK but the two sides have low expectations for a breakthrough because of key irreconcilable differences, reports indicate.
The UK finally left the EU on January 31, 2020, after voting in favor of doing so in June 2016. However, the question about the post-Brexit trade relations between the two has been left unsettled.
The last round of the uneasy negotiations ended in mid-May once more in a stalemate, not to mention the exchange of accusations, with the EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier asking his UK counterpart David Frost to watch his “tone”.
As of Tuesday, June 2, hundreds of EU and British officials are going to hold video conferences all week from London and Brussels in the fourth and last scheduled round of negotiations, after the coronavirus pandemic made the talks long-distance.
The June round is crucial for two reasons. First, as per the terms of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, the EU and the UK have until the end of June 2020 to decide on an extension of the talks by a year or two. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, however, has already rejected that possibility.
Second, June is also supposed to see a special summit of Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel to decide on whether further talks are even worth pursuing until the end-2020 deadline.
“I expect that I will find out whether the United Kingdom wants to leave the single market at the end of this year with an agreement or without one,” EU negotiator Barnier told Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio, as cited by AFP and France24.
“Perhaps the United Kingdom have come to the conclusion that there’s not going to be a deal. I hope not,” Phil Hogan, the EU’s Trade Commissioner told MEPs earlier this week.
“Perhaps this is more strategic than substance, but we certainly need confidence building measures in the next round of negotiations,” he said.
The greatest bone of contention is the question of adhering to a level playing field, with the EU insisting that for a trade agreement to work, the UK should commit to EU standards on health, environment, state aid and other concerns, with the agreement also including security, defense, and research.
That would go hand in hand with London accepting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, the EU’s top court.
The EU fears that without having to adhere to EU standards while enjoying zero-tariff trade, UK-based companies would be unfair competition in the European single market.
“What the EU is asking of us is unprecedented in any of the free trade agreements that they signed, or indeed contemplated signing, with other economies,” senior UK minister Michael Gove told British lawmakers.
He argued that the EU wanted countries it sees as within “its sphere of influence, to sign up to a higher level of compliance with EU rules and a higher level of EU supervision”.
Stefaan de Rynck, an adviser to Barnier, is quoted as saying there was little chance for a breakthrough.
“I think we need to move beyond the kind of idea that signing up to international commitments that are legally binding would have some kind of threat to national democracy,” he told a panel at the Institute for Government think-tank.
(Banner image: Michel Banier on Twitter)