The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator told Britain on Sunday that the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus crisis made it especially important the sides reach a new trade deal.
EU and UK negotiators will enter a fourth and last scheduled round of talks this week that could determine if a comprehensive new agreement is struck by the year-end deadline.
Conservatives hope that leaving EU will lead to more freedom for Britain
Britain formally left the other 27 EU nations in January but still largely operates as if it were a member of the bloc under a year-long transition for both sides to adjust to the new realities.
Brexit supporters are also upset that London will continue making contributions to the EU budget during the transition under a deal reached last year.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed not to extend the talks past the current deadline — something he must do by the end of June — and the prospects of a broad new deal look bleak.
Many in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government hope for a free trade agreement with Washington as one of the biggest benefits of leaving the European Union.
“The US is our largest trading partner and increasing transatlantic trade can help our economies bounce back from the economic challenge posed by coronavirus,” International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said.
Bilateral trade was worth £220.9 billion ($275 billion, 252.6 billion euros) in the last year, and a free trade deal could increase this by £15.3 billion on 2018 levels, in the long run, the British government says.
Johnson’s team argues that the whole point of Brexit was to give Britain the right to set its own rules.
Britain’s top negotiator David Frost reaffirmed on Wednesday that London “will always put a lot of emphasis on economic and political freedom at the end of this year and thus avoiding ongoing significant payments into the EU budget”.
3. We support high standards. But there is no need for novel and unprecedented "level playing field" rules, for example tying us to EU laws, or a role for the EU Court. What the EU proposes is unlike anything agreed in other such FTAs and we will not agree to it here.
— David Frost (@DavidGHFrost) April 24, 2020
Thus, it seems that the top priority of the British government is not to achieve a post-Brexit deal, but to attain more freedom for Britain, as that was their initial motivation to leave the EU.
Post-Brexit deal essential for the economy
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier told The Sunday Times that London and Brussels could not afford to make the economic situation even worse by breaking off their nearly 50-year partnership without arrangements for what comes next.
— UNCTAD (@UNCTAD) February 25, 2020
“If we don’t get an agreement then that will have even more consequences. And then of course those will be added to the already very serious consequences of the coronavirus crisis,” Barnier said.
“So I think that we have a joint responsibility in this very serious crisis, which affects so many families… with so many deaths, so many people sick, so many people unemployed… to do everything we can to reach an agreement and I very much hope that we will do so.”
The previous round of talks ended in acrimony in May.
A European source close to the talks said a “Johnson Brexit” — sacrificing close links to the EU in order to be free of its rules — was already going to rattle the economy.
“With corona, it’s going to be a double shock for businesses,” the source said.
But Johnson has remained deaf to the appeal, despite Britain’s budget watchdog warning that the coronavirus lockdown could shrink the country’s economy by a massive 13 percent in 2020.
Johnson unwilling to extend post-Brexit deal talks
Johnson is expected to work out the best way forward with EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel at a summit held shortly before the June deadline to extend the talks by up to two years.
The European Union is willing to offer Britain preferential trade terms if Johnson signs up to the major standards and regulations followed by the remaining members of the bloc.
Barnier accused UK negotiators of reneging on the commitments Johnson signed up to in a non-binding political declaration that accompanied the sides’ formal divorce deal.
A senior EU figure says Boris Johnson will be forced to U-turn on his refusal to extend the post-Brexit transition period beyond the end of 2020, branding it a “stunt”.
Phil Hogan, the trade commissioner, warned the prime minister his “have our cake and eat it” rhetoric would be exposed as false once the hard reality of the negotiations bites in the new year.
And he said the British people were still being shielded from the significant economic damage to come from pulling out of the single market and customs union.
“The UK has been taking a step back — two steps back, three steps back — from the original commitments,” Barnier told The Sunday Times.
A British government source shot back that Brussels “needs to inject some political reality in into its approach”.
“‘What is clear is that the conventional approach will not get us much further,” the British government source told the Mail on Sunday.
The post-Brexit deal talks may need to be extended in order to reach a conclusion, but Johnson is set on keeping the same timeline.
Johnson reportedly believes that the political benefits of meeting his pledge not to extend the talks past this year outweigh the cost of a no-deal divorce in a world suffering through a historic economic collapse.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk