BRUSSELS: Another round of trade discussions between the European Union and the UK ended Friday and once again there were no signs of progress ahead of a looming deadline on whether a transition arrangement can be extended.
Following four days of video discussions because of the coronavirus pandemic, the two sides remained at loggerheads on a number of issues, including on regulations for businesses. Their positions on fisheries also remain far apart, with the UK adamantly opposed to EU demands for long-term access to British waters.
The truth is there was no significant progress this week,” the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said during a press conference.
His counterpart on the UK side also failed to signal any meaningful breakthrough.
Progress remains limited, but our talks have been positive in tone, David Front, the UK’s chief negotiator, said.
The UK left the political institutions of the EU on January 31 but remains inside the EUs tariff-free economic zone until the end of the year. That so-called transition period can be extended by two years but a request to do so has to be made by July 1. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly said he won’t ask for an extension.
The most likely prospect for an imminent breakthrough in talks now rests on a high-level political meeting between Johnson and the EUs top official, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, scheduled for sometime later this month.
Though that looks set to be another video conference, the hope, particularly on the UK side, is that more face-to-face discussions can move things forward in the months ahead.
We are close to reaching the limits of what we can achieve through the format of remote formal rounds, Frost said.
If the two sides don’t reach an agreement by the end of the year, tariffs and quotas will be slapped on trade between the two sides. That would represent another economic shock on top of the pandemic that most economists think would affect Britain more. Cars exported from one side to the other, for example, would face a 10 per cent levy.
Barnier lambasted the UK for trying to distance itself from commitments made in the political declaration that accompanied the Brexit agreement, which dealt with issues related to its departure from the bloc such as citizens’ rights and the value of historic liabilities.
Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2020