The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator has said that a trade deal with Britain is currently “unlikely”, as the country will not submit to the bloc’s demands on regulations and fisheries.
“By its current refusal to commit to open and fair competition and to a balanced agreement on fisheries, the UK makes a trade agreement, at this point, unlikely,” declared Michel Barnier, the Frenchman leading the negotiations with the British for the supranational bloc.
While the United Kingdom technically left the EU at the beginning of 2020, losing its representation in the European Commission, European Parliament, and other EU institutions, it remains an EU member-state in all but name throughout the current “transition period”, with its trading arrangements with the bloc, regulatory framework, fisheries, and so on remaining firmly within Brussels’ control.
“Until the very last day of this negotiation and despite the current difficulties the EU will remain engaged, constructive, and respectful,” Barnier claimed — but went on to threaten that “If we do not reach an agreement on our future partnership there will be far more friction, for instance on trading goods in addition to new customs formalities there will be tariffs and quotas.”
“This is the truth of Brexit and I will continue to tell the truth. If we want to avoid this additional friction we must come to an agreement in October at the latest so that our new treaty can enter into force on 1 January next year. This means that we only have a few weeks left and that we should not waste time,” he continued.
“You don’t do that with ultimatums or threat, I’ve never seen negotiations being carried forward in that sort of way. I don’t think we’ve got time for these games,” he added — somewhat ironically, given that it is his position that the only way to break the deadlock and avoid an ad hoc No Deal Brexit is for the British side to cave in to his demands.
“We continue to believe that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the UK government want to find an agreement.”
Michel Barnier says that is in the “common interest” of the UK and the EU to find an agreement.
— SkyNews (@SkyNews) July 23, 2020
“It is unfortunately clear that we will not reach in July the ‘early understanding on the principles underlying any agreement’ that was set as an aim at the High Level Meeting on 15 June,” Barnier’s British counterpart, David Frost, concurred in his own statement.
“We have also had constructive discussions on trade in goods and services, and in some of the sectoral agreements, notably on transport, social security cooperation, and participation in EU programmes… But considerable gaps remain in the most difficult areas, that is, the so-called level playing field and on fisheries,” the diplomat continued, with the “level playing field” being a reference to EU demands that the British, unlike any of the bloc’s other trade partners, be required to continue obeying EU regulations, and possibly to keep its tax regime broadly in line with Europe’s as well.
“We have always been clear that our principles in these areas are not simple negotiating positions but expressions of the reality that we will be a fully independent country at the end of the transition period,” Frost insisted.
“That is why we continue to look for a deal with, at its core, a free trade agreement similar to the one the EU already has with Canada – that is, an agreement based on existing precedents. We remain unclear why this is so difficult for the EU, but we will continue to negotiate with this in mind,” he added pointedly.
Similarly to the way the EU has already struck a broadly tariff-free trade deal with agreement with Canada, the fisheries deal the United Kingdom is seeking with the bloc are also not unprecedented, with Brussels already having so-called “zonal attachment” arrangements in place with Norway and Iceland, which leave those countries the lion’s share of their own stocks with some shared management of fish which move between EU and non-EU waters.
At present, Britain’s fisheries are under EU control, with the bloc doling out the majority of the country’s stocks to foreign trawlers — an arrangement which has devastated the British fishing industry.
Frost concluded on a somewhat more upbeat note than Barnier, however, suggesting that he still believes that a deal can be struck in September.