London and Brussels ahead of the final meter race to agree on post-Brexit

After eight months of difficult talks in the midst of the health crisis, the European Union and Britain start Monday the final round of negotiations on the post-Brexit phase to reach at its conclusion an unprecedented trade agreement, or otherwise to a bitter political failure .

Britain formally left the European Union on January 31, but the effect of separation will not appear before January 1, 2021, after the end of the transition period during which European standards are supposed to continue to be applied.

Also during this period, London and Brussels pledged to conclude a trade agreement in the name of “no tariffs, zero quotas” to limit as much as possible the negative and unavoidable consequences of Brexit.

But less than fifty days before the end of the year, the talks are now in full swing, although intense.

A European diplomat considers that “logic and reason must allow to reach an agreement”.

“But what has become clear in recent years is that economic logic and common sense are not sufficient to explain what is happening in the Brexit issue”.

From the referendum on Brexit in June 2016 to reaching at the end of 2019 at the last minute to an agreement providing for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union through British law calling into question the agreement itself, the separation process has been full of ups and downs.

The latest development in this file was the resignation of Dominic Cummings, the architect of the 2016 Brexit campaign, on Friday from the position of senior aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

This followed the resignation of Lee Caine, Johnson’s communications director, who is considered a close ally of Cummings.

“These two resignations allow us to think that (Johnson) is ready to make the concessions necessary to reach an agreement, at least,” says the European conservationist, Philip Lambert.

And he believes that Johnson “according” the matter, between the election of Joe Biden “an American president who is less friendly than (his predecessor…) and a tragic economic situation, he cannot pay the price of Brexit without an agreement”.

However, the hypothesis of a moderate British approach was categorically rejected by the Prime Minister.

While preparations are being made to resume negotiations in Brussels, led by Michel Barnier on the European side and David Frost on the British side, it is impossible to expect results.

One thing is certain: an agreement must be reached in the coming days to be able to ratify it in a timely manner by the British and European Parliament.

Thursday’s videoconference that brings together the heads of state and government of the European Union – which has so far been devoted to the Covid-19 crisis – could be a deadline for reaching an agreement. But a new extension of the talks cannot be ruled out.

In the event that an agreement is not reached, exchanges between Britain and the Union will be subject to the rules of the World Trade Organization, with the re-imposition of very large tariffs at times, but also you will face non-tariff obstacles (such as quotas, technical and sanitary standards).

Leaving the Union without an agreement will cause more repercussions for the economies mainly affected by the Covid-19 epidemic, but more for the British economy, as the United Kingdom exports 47% of its products to the continent, at a time when the Union exports only 8% of its goods to Britain.

In the event of separation without an agreement, London considers that seven thousand trucks could be stranded in Kent (southeast) for about two days in order to cross the tunnel.

“If we are not able to strike a deal, it will be a major failure of politics and diplomacy,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said recently.

Negotiations are stalled over three issues: the guarantees required from London with regard to competition, European access to fishing grounds in British waters, and how to manage disputes in the future agreement.

In terms of competition, the European Union wants to ensure that the UK does not deviate from the environmental and social standards in force, as well as that it will not provide assistance to its companies indefinitely, while it is ready to open its market of 450 million consumers to it.

If this is not respected, the union wants immediate sanctions to protect its companies, which London refuses.

A European diplomat explains that “either the British agree and proceed to difficult negotiations on fishing, or they refuse, and we will have passed the available time and then the negotiations will not reach any result”.