The European Union and the United Kingdom have agreed to continue negotiating to reach an agreement for trade. After Brexit, the future relationship has been announced by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. The two sides had set this Sunday as the deadline to decide whether a trade deal could be reached. In recent days, they had warned of persistent differences in their positions.
Since the United Kingdom left the EU on January 31, London and Brussels have had 11 months to agree on the future relationship that will affect January 1, 2021, when the transition period ends. But now they consider that the “responsible” thing is to keep trying, even at the last minute, to avoid a hard Brexit, as they have indicated in a joint statement.
“Despite the exhaustion and the fact that we have not met the deadlines time and time again, we both believe that the responsible thing is to make an additional effort to see if an agreement can be reached,” said Von der Leyen after maintaining a phone conversation with Boris Johnson. However, the prime minister has clarified afterward that they are still “far apart on key issues, but where there is life, there is hope.”
Differences in competition and fishing
London refuses to follow European regulations to access the single market, a condition utterly contrary to the essence of Brexit: recovering British sovereignty and leaving the “orbit of the EU,” in the words of Boris Johnson, who has been demanding some political movement in the community capital. “I believe that an agreement can be reached if our colleagues wish, but the UK cannot be locked into the orbit of the EU and we have to regain control of the fisheries. This is very clear,” said the prime minister on Sky News.
For its part, Brussels defends that there are similar conditions in the commercial relationship to preserve the EU’s internal market and wants to prevent the United Kingdom from violating the rules and its commitments in the future.
And despite the warnings and the extension, community sources have confirmed to Reuters that there has been some progress in recent days. Still, talks remain stalled around commercial competition and fishing.
Countries such as France and Denmark want to maintain their access to British waters. Still, the United Kingdom defends that, as an independent state, it should have the power to prioritize the task for its fishing vessels and wants to negotiate the quotas with the community countries annually. The Government of Boris Johnson would have already ordered the British naval patrol to detain community fishing boats that fish in the English Channel as of January 1 if there is no agreement, according to the British press.
“Trade agreements do not serve to consolidate independence but to manage interdependence. That is what is at stake. Of course, there are EU fishing vessels that fish in British waters, but the key is not to prevent them from fishing but to manage their task, “said the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Arancha González Laya, in statements to Sky News.
The decision taken this Sunday returns a certain optimism to negotiations that have been blocked for months. If the two parties agree on something, it is necessary to avoid the disaster that would cause an exit without a trade agreement in January. Still, the truth is that there are only 18 days left to reach an agreement that should be ratified by the Twenty-seven, the European Parliament, and the House of Commons.
The British Government has already warned that, despite a trade agreement, around 7,000 trucks circulating through British ports could face queues of up to 100 kilometers if companies do not prepare for the imminent changes with the exit of the union customs and the single market. Against this backdrop, EU demand for parts, goods, and food has increased in the UK, leading to long queues at the ports of Dover and Calais.
“We must do everything we can to make an agreement possible,” said the European Council president, Charles Michel, in an interview. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed himself along the same lines, who has assured that “any opportunity to achieve this is welcome.”
Still, some acknowledge that an agreement is “clearly very difficult,” as the Irish Foreign Minister has said. And London warns: This extension does not necessarily translate into optimism. “It’s great that Ursula [von der Leyen] is optimistic, but the best we can do now is to continue with all the work done and prepare” for a no-deal scenario. “Whatever happens, the UK will do very, very well,” Johnson insisted.