Another Brexit deadline has come and gone. Well, like.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson set October 15 as the date for the United Kingdom to reach a trade agreement with the European Union. This self-imposed deadline came on Thursday, when both sides are still at a dead end regarding their future relationship.
The October 15 deadline coincided with the EU summit in Brussels, where European leaders said they wanted to continue working on the agreement, but asked Britain to “take the necessary steps to make the agreement possible”. Member States also recognized that they should intensify preparations for the possibility that agreements would not be reached before the actual deadline of the end of the year.
Johnson responded on Friday, accusing the EU of stubbornness, saying he had “refused to hold serious talks for most of recent months”;. Because of this, he said, Britain, too, “with a high heart and full confidence,” will prepare for the scenario without agreements.
“And we can do that because we always knew that on January 1, there would be a change, no matter what kind of relationship we had,” Johnson said. “And now it’s time for our business to prepare, both for carriers and for travelers.”
However, Johnson has clearly not withdrawn from the talks – and the talks are expected to continue in some form. Which is almost all that many observers expected: tougher talks, but no real decisive action from either side.
But even if the Brexit talks are not completely dead, they are certainly entering a much more volatile phase.
Progress has been made in some areas, but both sides remain confused on key issues. Attempts by the UK to try to abandon part of the original Brexit agreement and the EU’s decision to sue them have also complicated matters.
And again, there is a very real and very fixed deadline of December 31, which is becoming inconveniently approaching. Unlike the first phase of Brexit, this deadline cannot be easily postponed.
So both sides really need to prepare for the future without agreements.
How did the EU and the UK get here, which seems to be where they used to be
The UK officially withdrew from the European Union in January 2020, but it continued to abide by EU rules under the terms of the Brexit agreement, which allowed a transition period until the end of 2020.
The essence of the transition period was to give both the EU and the UK time to clarify their relationship after the collapse. Both sides must reach a trade agreement, but they will also have to address many other issues, from fishing to security cooperation.
These negotiations have not gone well at all, and both sides are at odds with key issues, including state aid and fisheries. The latter is no less a symbolic issue for the UK than an economic one, but state aid – or so-called “equal conditions” – is indeed a problem.
The EU insists that if the UK wants duty-free access to its single market, it cannot try to bring down the EU by subsidizing industries or businesses or lowering standards for things like the environment or labor, which could boost British companies.
But for Britain, which wanted Brexit to be the owner of the rules instead of the rulemaker, adhering to EU standards is the opposite of what Brexit had to provide when Britain re-established its own trade regime.
The UK says this can be addressed through a regular old-school free trade agreement, like Canada’s agreement with the EU. But the EU says the UK is not Canada, not in terms of proximity and access – plus they are cooperating on many other fronts – so this agreement cannot be repeated.
And back and forth it lasted for months.
The Covid-19 pandemic also complicated negotiations, consuming most of the energy in London and other EU capitals earlier this year, and forcing negotiators to hold video conferences where outside discussions, which often lead to breakthroughs, cannot take place. (Plus, diplomats on both sides received Covid-19.) The parties have tried to resume discussions and set target dates, including this month, but this has not led to such great progress.
As it was still not difficult enough, in September the Johnson government introduced legislation called the Internal Market Bill, which would clarify some elements of the exit agreement – also known as the Brexit bill related to Northern Ireland.
Opponents say it violates international law; The EU has said the same and is suing for possible violations. Some experts have seen Johnson’s game as a “macho” aimed at forcing the EU to give in during larger talks, but the EU is adamant.
And so both sides reached mid-October, without much movement on major issues, and both sides accused the other of uncompromisingness in their red lines.
At this week’s EU summit, European leaders, who continued to show much unity, said they wanted to continue negotiations, but also said Britain should reconsider its position. Of course, Britain responded by saying that on the basis of the EU summit, Brussels did not want to conclude with Britain the trade agreement it wanted, and he was ready to leave.
But neither side has actually done so, at least not yet. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday that “the EU continues to work on the agreement, but not at any cost.” According to her, the EU team will still go to London to continue talks next week.
– Negotiations: The EU continues to work for an agreement, but not at any cost.
As planned, our negotiating team will travel to London next week to intensify these talks.
– Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) October 16, 2020
Top Brexit negotiators Michel Barnier and Britain’s David Frost have said they will talk early next week, although Frost told Barnier not to go to London unless the EU has a new plan, according to the Guardian. European leaders also urged Johnson to continue speaking.
This average October date was mostly invented, but there is really not enough time. Earlier, Barnier said that any agreement must be reached by the end of October, so that the European Parliament has time to review and approve this completely new relationship. This is probably also a flexible deadline, but the deeper the negotiations in November or December, the more difficult it will be to implement new agreements by the end of the year.
And while it may seem like we’ve seen this Brexit show before – direct talks with impending deadlines – this time it’s actually different.
Why the threat of abandoning Brexit still remains
Unlike the first phase of Brexit, where the deadline was constantly delayed, delayed and delayed, this possibility is a little less. The current restriction of December 2020 is enshrined in the Brexit agreement between the UK and the EU, which is now an international treaty. Britain could extend it, but had to make that choice by the end of June, and it refused to do so.
And although the possibility of a last-minute fiction cannot be completely ruled out, it seems plausible only if there is a real move on the main issues in this future relationship. That is why both parties reiterated that they are preparing for the possibility of an agreement without a contract.
Everything catastrophically devastating that could have happened if Britain had left the EU without the plan that existed before Brexit could still happen if both sides reach the end of the transition period without agreements.
This is because as soon as the transition period is over, all the trade and regulatory mechanisms that the UK has followed will end. The parties will trade according to the rules of the World Trade Organization, which sets tariffs and quotas between countries that do not have free trade agreements.
Johnson called the deal “Australian” “based on the simple principles of global free trade.” Australia does not have a formal free trade agreement with the EU, but it has many cooperation agreements – which the UK would not have had if it had left on 1 January without an agreement. Plus, Britain’s trade relations with the EU far surpass those in Australia. So, as some have pointed out, it would actually be an “Afghan-style” agreement or a “Somali-style” agreement, or, you see. Nothing.
Which means that inspections and controls can create massive destructive congestion at entry ports. Companies and enterprises will face new rules and barriers to trade. For the EU, this may be a painful correction, but for the UK it will do much more harm.
In general, a deal without an agreement by 2020 may still look like experts predicted before Brexit became official, except that, of course, businesses are already struggling with the constraints of the pandemic, making it difficult for them to prepare for uncertainty. One firm estimates that the lack of a Brexit deal plus Covid-19 could cost the British economy $ 174 billion a year over the next decade.
The economic crisis caused by the pandemic could give Johnson some political cover to end Brexit talks without an agreement – in fact, he could file all the economic setbacks under Covid-19, not Brexit, and hopefully no one will notice.
But it may not fly, as companies are already saying they are not ready for a pandemic deal, and the rest of the UK is beginning to wake up to the realities of Brexit, including all this new infrastructure. prepare for potential post-Brexit border checks.
The UK and the EU want to avoid this scenario without agreements, but as more and more arbitrary deadlines are imposed, the real one is approaching – without clear signs of compromise.
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