On 2 September, the EU’s Head of Task Force Relations with the United Kingdom, Michel Barnier, spoke to the Institute of International & European Affairs, providing an update on the state-of-play of EU-UK trade negotiations. Mr Barnier expressed his hope that a deal can still be reached by the end of the transition period but warned about the significant hurdles still standing in the way.
First and foremost, the UK must understand that the EU has many priorities and cannot afford to allow Brexit to dominate its agenda. The EU is concentrating on coronavirus response efforts, debating its Multiannual Financial Framework and working towards developing a digitalised and sustainable economy. The EU’s relationship with the UK is no longer on the top of EU officials’ agendas, although all realise it is a serious matter.
A deal must be reached by October. This is a deadline defined by the EU, as it will require the following two months to ratify the deal throughout the various institutions, so as to be in place for 1 January 2021. This deadline has always been one the UK is aware of and has not been set by the UK’s Prime Minister.
According to Mr Barnier, the EU must focus efforts on three main tasks: (i) negotiating the future partnership, (ii) implementing the Withdrawal Agreement and (iii) preparing for changes at the end of the transition period. The EU shows signs that it is ready and willing to do so, hoping that responsible behaviour will help contain the any negative consequences Brexit brings to each side.
As far as current negotiations stand, the EU maintains that it would like a close partnership, but only provided that the conditions are right. Mr Barnier stated most bluntly that the UK has not recently been engaging constructively and that he is disappointed by the lack of progress.
Mr Barnier identified three areas in which he is particularly disappointed by the UK’s lack of engagement: (i) finding a credible guarantee for open and fair competition (i.e. the level playing field), (ii) compromises on fisheries and (iii) state aid. Mr Barnier continues to be frustrated that UK negotiators do not understand that the level playing is a necessity rather than a bargaining chip and accused the UK of continuing to ask for special privileges that cannot be afforded to a third country.
In response to this morning’s news about the UK planning legislation that could undermine the Withdrawal Agreement, EU diplomats have said this is a “desperate and ultimately self-defeating strategy” and that “message spinning and posturing is all fine, but it doesn’t really bring us an inch closer to a solution”. By and large, Brussels is unimpressed by this move.
To read Michel Barnier’s address, please click here.