In view of travel restrictions imposed by COVID-19 containment measures, UK and EU negotiations for a free trade agreement were temporarily placed on hold. This delay was primarily due to the limitations of negotiating via videoconference. The two parties, however, are to resume negotiations on Wednesday, 15 April, with experts dialling in from home to discuss the various workstreams. Both lead negotiators – Michel Barnier (EU) and David Frost (UK) – are expected to lead the discussions, having both recovered from cases of COVID-19 themselves.
During this week’s meetings, the two parties are expected to continue to discuss legal texts produced each have produced, with the chance to confer with technical experts. On Friday, the EU received UK draft texts on energy, criminal justice cooperation, with a noticeable absence of texts on fisheries and foreign policy. Member States, meanwhile, are raising concerns that they are not allowed access to these texts, as stipulated by the UK negotiating team. This, the Member States argue, harms the negotiations.
Despite negotiations slowing down, the calendar continues to run down as quickly as ever.
On 1 July, Germany will take over the rolling EU presidency. According to leaked letter from German ambassador to the EU, Michael Clauss, the presidency’s sole focus will be the European economic recovery. Due to the limited capacity of holding meetings via secure videolinks, all other priorities, including the EU-UK FTA, will descend on the list of priorities. Therefore, EU leaders and politicians are expressing growing concerns over the timetable and believe it will be unlikely for negotiations to conclude by the end of 2020. The UK should not be surprised to see gaining pressure from the EU to request an extension to the negotiations.