Another Brexit deadline has come and gone. Well, something like.
The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had set October 15 as the date for the United Kingdom to reach a trade agreement with the European Union. This self-imposed deadline arrived on Thursday, with the two sides still at a standstill over their future relationship.
The October 15 deadline coincided with the EU summit in Brussels, where European leaders said they wanted to continue working for the deal, but asked the United Kingdom to “take the necessary steps to make the agreement possible”. Member States also acknowledged that they need to step up preparations for the possibility of not reaching an agreement before the actual deadline, which is the end of the year.
Johnson responded on Friday, accusing the EU of being stubborn, saying it “has been seriously refusing to negotiate for most of the past few months”
“And we can do it because we always knew there would be a change on January 1, whatever the relationship,” Johnson said. “So now is the time for our business to prepare, for the carriers to prepare and for the passengers to prepare.”
However, Johnson did not explicitly withdraw from the talks – and negotiations are expected to continue in some form. Which many observers almost expected: heavier talk, but no real drastic action on either side.
But even if the Brexit talks are not completely dead, they are definitely entering a much more uncertain phase.
There has been progress in some areas, but both sides remain mired in key issues. Attempts by the United Kingdom to try to drop parts of the original Brexit deal and the EU’s decision to take them to court have also complicated matters.
And again, there is a very real and very fixed deadline until December 31, which is approaching awkwardly. Unlike the first phase of Brexit, this deadline cannot be easily postponed.
So both sides really need to prepare for a future without a deal.
How the EU and the UK got here, which feels like a place they used to be
The United Kingdom officially left the European Union in January 2020, but continued to comply with EU rules under the terms of the Brexit deal, which allowed a transitional period until the end of 2020.
The purpose of the transition period was to give both the EU and the United Kingdom time to understand their relationship after the break-up. The two sides need to reach a trade agreement, but they also need to address many other issues, from fisheries to security co-operation.
These negotiations are not going well at all and both sides are at odds on key issues, in particular state aid and fisheries. The latter is as much a symbolic issue for the United Kingdom as it is economically, but state aid – or so-called ‘level playing field’ – is, in fact, the problem.
The EU insists that if the UK wants duty-free access to its single market, it cannot try to undermine the EU by subsidizing industries or businesses or by lowering the standards for things like environmental or labor protection that it can give to British business. push.
But for the UK, which wanted Brexit to be a rulemaker rather than a rulemaker, adhering to EU standards is the opposite of what Brexit had to provide once the UK re-established its own trading regime.
The United Kingdom says this can be addressed through a regular old-style free trade agreement, similar to what Canada has with the EU. But the EU says the UK is not Canada, not in terms of proximity and access – plus they are cooperating on so many other fronts – so this deal cannot be repeated.
And this has been going on for months.
The Covid-19 pandemic also complicated negotiations, consuming much of the energy in London and other EU capitals earlier this year and forcing negotiators into video conferences, where those side discussions that often lead to breakthroughs cannot happen. (Plus, diplomats from both sides received Covid-19.) The two sides tried to rejuvenate discussions and set target deadlines, including this month, but that didn’t make much progress.
As things were no longer difficult enough, in September the Johnson government introduced legislation called the Internal Market Bill, which would change some elements of the withdrawal agreement – also known as the OG Brexit Bill – relating to Northern Ireland.
Opponents say this violates international law; The EU has said the same and is challenging potential violations. Some experts have seen Johnson’s play as a “macho link” aimed at forcing the EU to back down from bigger talks, but the EU is adamant.
So the two sides reached mid-October without much movement on the main issues, and both sides accused the other of being uncompromising on its red lines.
At this week’s EU summit, European leaders – who continued to show great unity – said they wanted the talks to continue, but also said Britain needed to rethink its position. The United Kingdom responded, of course, by saying that, based on the EU summit, Brussels was not ready to give the United Kingdom the trade deal it wanted and 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 for a deal, but not at any cost.” She said the EU team would still go to London to resume talks next week.
– Talks: The EU continues to work for a deal, but not at any cost.
As planned, our negotiating team will go to London next week to step up these negotiations.
– Ursula von der Layen (@vonderleyen) October 16, 2020
Top Brexit negotiators – EU Michel Barnier and UK David Frost – have said they will talk early next week, although Frost told Barnier not to come to London unless the EU has a new plan, according to the Guardian. . European leaders also called on Johnson to continue speaking.
This mid-October deadline was largely invented, but time is running out. Earlier, Barnier said that any agreement should be reached by the end of October so that the European Parliament has time to review and approve this brand new relationship. This is probably a flexible deadline, but the deeper the negotiations in November or December, the greater the challenge will be to implement new agreements by the end of the year.
And while we feel as if we’ve seen this show on Brexit before – near-term talks – things are really different this time.
Why the Brexit threat still remains without a deal
Unlike the first phase of Brexit, where the deadline was delayed, delayed and delayed, this possibility is a little less likely here. The current restriction was enshrined in December 2020 in the Brexit deal between the UK and the EU, which is now an international treaty. The United Kingdom could extend it, but had to make that choice by the end of June and refused to do so.
And although the possibility of last-minute fraud cannot be completely ruled out, this seems likely only if there is a real movement on the main issues in this future relationship. That is why both sides have reiterated that they are preparing for the possibility of no deal.
All the catastrophically devastating things that could happen if the United Kingdom leaves the EU without a pre-Brexit plan can still happen if the two countries reach the end of the transition period without agreements available.
This is because, after the end of the transitional period, all trade and regulatory arrangements that the United Kingdom has followed will be completed. The two countries will trade according to the rules of the World Trade Organization, which set tariffs and quotas between countries that do not have free trade agreements with each other.
Johnson decided to call it an “Australian-style deal” based on simple principles of global free trade. ” Australia does not have a formal free trade agreement with the EU, but it has a number of co-operation agreements – which Britain would not have if it left on 1 January without a deal. In addition, the UK’s trade relations with the EU are far ahead of Australia’s. So, as some have pointed out, this would actually be a “Afghan” or “Somali” deal, or, of course, you see. This is nothing.
Which means that inspections and controls could create massive, destructive blockages at entry ports. Companies and firms will face new rules and barriers to trade. This could be a painful adjustment for the EU, but it will be much more detrimental to the UK.
Overall, the lack of a 2020 deal may still look much like what experts predicted before Brexit became official – except, of course, that businesses are already struggling over pandemic constraints, making it difficult to prepare for uncertainty. One firm estimates that Brexit without a 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 a deal – in essence, he could file all the economic disruption under the Covid-19 category, not Brexit, and hope that no one does not notice.
But that may not fly, as businesses are already saying they are not prepared for a no-deal amid the pandemic, and the rest of the UK is beginning to wake up to the realities of Brexit, including all this new infrastructure. Prepare for potential border checks after Brexit.
Both Britain and the EU want to avoid this scenario without a deal, but as more and more self-imposed deadlines pass, the real one is approaching – without a clear sign of compromise.
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