Five questions about (yes, again) an important Brexit week
Despite the British saying goodbye to the European Union in January, Brexit is still going on. In fact, this week is yet another crucial moment in the process. Five questions about another important week in this lengthy headache file.
Brexit, isn’t it over yet?
No definitely not! The United Kingdom may not officially be part of the EU anymore, but will continue to adhere to European rules such as free trade, European animal passports and access to fishing until the end of this year.
This so-called transition period gives the UK time to adjust to life after Brexit. What that life will look like remains to be seen: currently Brussels and London are still negotiating their future economic relationship.
How are those negotiations going?
Not so good: they are stuck. As a result of the corona crisis, there have only been three rounds of negotiations, and the EU and the UK are still miles apart on many fronts, such as fisheries and competition.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier accuses the British of wanting the pleasures of the EU but not the burdens. “You can’t dance at two weddings at the same time,” Barnier expressed his frustration on German radio channel Deutschlandfunk this week. Across the Channel, top negotiator David Frost thinks that Brussels is immobile.
Michel Barnier (r) and David Frost (l) meet at a meeting in Brussels before the outbreak of the corona virus. Since the virus outbreak, there is only video between the two parties. (Photo: Pro Shots)
What is the biggest pain point?
The EU offers the UK a free trade agreement with the condition that the British commit to European agreements on matters such as taxes, labor standards and environmental standards. In this way, Brussels prevents the British from losing weight, for example, at work standards and thus gaining a competitive advantage. The EU sees preserving European standards as creating a “level playing field”, which is the main pain in the negotiations.
The UK also wants a free trade agreement and claims to maintain high standards after Brexit, but refuses to commit to European standards. “The so-called level playing field would chain our country to European rules and standards, in a way that is unprecedented in this type of free trade agreement,” said Frost after the last round. “If they understand that we will never agree to this, then we can only make progress.”
Analysts say that the British do not want to agree to European standards, because otherwise it will be more difficult for the UK to conclude a trade agreement with other countries. For example, if the British continued to keep European rules, a trade deal with the United States could not be about agriculture, because the US chlorine chicken should not enter the European market.
On to next week: why is it so important?
The fourth round of negotiations will start on Monday. That is currently the last round on the agenda for an important deadline at the end of June. Before July 1, the British have to decide whether they want to extend the transition period beyond December and thus stick to European rules for longer. The parties would thereby give each other more air to reach an agreement. The EU has said several times that it supports an extension.
The Johnson government has said time and again that it does not want to extend the transition period and that it wants to have Brexit completely complete from 2021 onwards. Johnson warned he might even want to walk away from the negotiating table in March if not enough progress is made before July.
Will the entire Brexit process still lead to a no deal?
If we have learned one thing since the referendum in 2016, everything can become liquid under pressure. Last fall, the British also seemed to be leaving the EU without an agreement, but after a concession from Johnson, things hit the road and a deal was rolled out.
So it is still too early to answer this, but with another week of stagnation in the negotiations, the dreaded no-deal scenario seems to be one step closer.