Nervous EU Nations Demand No Deal Planning as UK Progresses on Other Deals

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier wearing a face mask because of the novel coronavirus pandemic leaves a conference centre as talks continue between the EU and the UK in London on November 12, 2020. - The European Union and Britain said major divergences remain but that post-Brexit negotiations would continue …
TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

France, Belgium, and the Netherlands are reportedly demanding the EU’s executive arm publish the bloc’s no-deal planning as the deadline for agreeing on a deal in the European Parliament looms. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom may be seeing progress on other trade deals with Australia and Canada.

The EU has been playing hardball with the British in negotiations, particularly in terms of fishing, regulations, and whether disputes over a deal would be arbitrated by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has held off releasing no-deal plans to member-states should it give the British leverage in ongoing talks. The British government negotiates directly with Brussels, rather than with individual member-states.

Nervous states with the most to lose from a no-deal are now pressuring the European Commission to release those papers, with the United Kingdom due to leave the EU’s institutions on January 1st, 2021. If there is no deal, the British will trade with the bloc largely on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms.

One senior EU diplomat told The Times on Thursday that “we need a safety net”.

“Of course, this sends out a political signal,” the diplomat said, “But it is high time to prepare people and businesses in case we cannot fix an agreement in time. I know member states will ask to get contingency measures out into the open.”

Mr Barnier told a meeting of EU commissioners on Wednesday that Brussels and London are in the “final push” to agree on a deal in time for it to be ratified by the European Parliament in time for the end of the parliamentary session.

Thursday, the 19th, was already slated as a deadline to agree on a deal, but that date has passed. Sources have also ruled out that an agreement may be revealed on Monday or Tuesday, with there being “no breakthrough on the famous three points”.

Meanwhile, British trade envoy Tony Abbott, the former prime minister of Australia, says there is “eagerness” in his home country to sign a trade deal by Christmas.

Mr Abbott told the Commons International Trade Committee on Wednesday: “I know on both sides there is an eagerness to try and get the Australian deal done before Christmas and I hope in the next negotiating session both sides are prepared to put all their cards on the table so the best possible deal can be hammered out.

“Ideally a deal between Britain and Australia would involve no tariffs, no quotas, as full as possible mutual recognition of standards and qualifications and as free as possible movement of people for well paid work, not welfare.”

Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that a trade deal between Britain and Canada is imminent, with sources telling the news network the announcement is set to be made in days. Such a trade deal could be a matter of rolling over the EU’s deal — CETA — with Canada.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said last week: “I know that rolling over and demonstrating free trade deals is important for the UK government. Canada is a really easy one. We’re there for it. We’d like to do it, so I am very hopeful that it’s going to get done but that’s up to the UK government.”

The United Kingdom signed its first bilateral agreement as an independent nation with Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, in September.

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