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2nd Mar 2024

EU and Britain: 'New momentum' required for deal

  • EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and UK prime minister Boris Johnson in London, back in January. On Monday their talks were by video-conference only (Photo: European Commission)

Top EU officials and British prime minister Boris Johnson on Monday (15 June) agreed to ramp up negotiations over the summer on their future trade deal - which have been almost at a standstill for most of the year.

Johnson and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, EU Council president Charles Michel and European parliament chief David Sassoli held a an hour-long videoconference and agreed "that new momentum was required".

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The talks finally kicked off in early March, then had four rounds stalled by the Covid-19 crisis, and there had been little progress made on the key issues.

The online format of the negotiations did not help reaching compromises, and the two sides have blamed each other for rigidity.

The transition period - the prolongation of existing rules of the relationship despite the UK leaving the EU in December 2019 - expires at the end of the year, and the UK has ruled out asking for an extension.

An agreement on the new arrangements needs to be reached by the October, according to EU diplomats, to give enough time for ratification before the end of the year.

The UK will leave the single market, lose frictionless access to the EU market, and stop adhering to the bloc's rules at the end of 2020.

If no agreement is reached, an 'no-deal Brexit' looms with tariffs, customs and regulatory checks, and damages suffered on both sides, particularly in Britain, aggravated by the Covid-19 crisis.

On Monday, the leaders agreed to find a possible "early understanding on the principles underlying any agreement."

That would help negotiators zoning in on issues to get a less ambitious deal done by the end of the year. Five new rounds of talks, this time face-to-face, have been scheduled for July and August.

Leaders seem to have agreed that, given the short time, a thinner deal needs to be concluded, and then details and particular sectors hammered out later.

"I don't think we're actually that far apart but what we need now is to see a bit of oomph [energy] in the negotiations," Johnson said.

"We see no reason why you shouldn't get this done in July," he added.

MIchel, however, warned in a tweet that member states "will never accept an agreement that goes against interests of the union".

Johnson is due to meet the French president Emmanuel Macron on Thursday (18 June).

Little in common

But there had been little common ground on the key principles so far.

London has rejected calls to commit to EU rules and standards policed by European law in exchange for access to the bloc's vast market.

London also rejects references to EU law or rulings by the European Court of Justice in the deal, while the EU wants to make sure EU law is only interpreted by the Luxembourg-based court.

There has been a major standoff on fishing rights as well, with the EU asking for 'status quo' access, which the UK has refused and instead argues for yearly negotiated quotas.

Britain also wants to make sure the EU does not cross-link other issues with the trade deal, to prevent the bloc from exerting pressure with its trade power.

Britain has so far rejected to discuss foreign affairs and defence, irking the EU, while it has also not made commitments on data rules, which could hamper judicial and law enforcement cooperation.

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