STATE OF PLAY
Negotiations resumed this week after a six-week interruption caused by coronavirus. Over five days and 40 video sessions, 10 negotiating teams were expected to provide an urgent “refocus” with topics of discussions including fisheries, trade in goods, the level playing field, aviation and the participation in Union programmes.
However, following the talks, EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier noted that progress made during the week was been disappointing, adding that “genuine progress”, and a decision on whether to extend the transition period were both needed in June. He further said that the UK has “refused to engage seriously on a number of fundamental issues – issues that we did not pull out of our hat: they can be found quite precisely in the Political Declaration that we agreed with Boris Johnson. This document must be implemented seriously, precisely and objectively. I regret to say that this is not yet the case.”
Barnier specifically mentioned four areas of disagreement: government arrangements for the future relationship; the level playing field; justice and fisheries. He said that while the UK negotiating team kept repeating that they were negotiating as “sovereign equals”, the “reality” was that an agreement was being sought between “a market of 66 million consumers on one side of the Channel and a market of 450 million consumers on the other”.
On fisheries, one of the most contentious issues, Barnier reiterated that the EU would not agree to a deal without a “balanced, sustainable and long-term agreement”, describing it as an “inseparable part of the trade agreement, along with the level-playing field”. However, he said that “no progress” had been made on this issue, as the UK has “not put forward a legal text”.
Barnier also warned that progress in the talks would depend on the UK honouring commitments made in its Brexit treaty, explaining that the EU “need clear evidence that the UK is advancing with the introduction of the agreed customs procedures for goods entering Northern Ireland. We need clear evidence that the UK will also be able to carry out all sanitary and phytosanitary controls.”
He said that the two sides “need to find solutions on the most difficult topics”, saying that “The UK cannot refuse to extend transition [as reiterated by the UK counterpart David Frost in his opening remarks earlier in the week] and, at the same time, slow down discussions on important areas”. He further said that any deal agreed by December would have to be “smart” in order to “cushion the blow” of Brexit and coronavirus.
The UK was due to release its read-out of the second round at the end of the day on 24th April.
The next rounds of videoconference negotiations are set to take place in the weeks of 11 May and 1 June.
OTHER KEY DEVELOPMENTS
- PM Boris Johnson might return to work as soon as Monday, according to government officials who say he is making a rapid recovery from coronavirus. However, they also emphasised that a final decision has not yet been taken.
- The Ireland Northern Ireland specialised committee (INISC), which was established with the Withdrawal Agreement to “facilitate the implementation and application of the Protocol”, will meet for the first time on 30 April. The Cabinet Office has confirmed that the INISC will be “comprised of officiallevel representatives of the EU and the UK” and will “meet as regularly as required”. A working group will also be set up to feed into the committee. The Cabinet Office said that it will act “as a forum for the exchange of information and mutual consultation” on implementation.
- Former UK Chancellor Philip Hammond said both the UK and European economies have taken a “significant shock” from the coronavirus and suggested that in the next few months, the UK and the EU could strike an “interim trade arrangement,” which ends the Brexit transition but temporarily maintains the status quo. Former Conservative MP David Lidington also said that coronavirus made a Brexit extension ‘inevitable’.