Crunch summit: What the U.K. has to do to keep its EU trade talks alive


Michel Bariner, the European Commission’s Head of Task Force for Relations with the U.K.


POOL/AFP via Getty Images

European Union heads of states or governments are meeting in a two-day summit to assess the long-running negotiations between the U.K. and the EU over their post-Brexit trade relationship.

  • According to a draft communiqué seen by Reuters, EU leaders will ask that the negotiations continue in the next couple of weeks, even though U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned last month that the country would opt for a “no-deal Brexit” if no progress had been made by the summit.
  • U.K. government sources quoted in several media reports indicated in the last few days that London would not walk away from the talks, even though little apparent progress seems to have been made toward a compromise in recent weeks.
  • The two remaining issues on the table — fishing in U.K. waters and the rules on state aid to establish a business and regulatory ‘level playing field’ between the two sides — could, however, allow the parties to compromise in a traditional EU tit-for-tat bargain.
  • Both sides have ramped up the rhetoric in recent days, with assurances that they have prepared for the disruptions that a ‘no-deal’ crisis would bring on their respective economies.
  • The only consensus between the U.K. and the EU negotiators is that an agreement has to be struck by the end of the month to give respective Parliaments the time to ratify it in time for the end of the Brexit “transition period” on December 31.

The outlook: The many “we-want-a-deal-but-are-ready-for-no-deal” statements from both sides sound increasingly less credible as the extent of the coronavirus economic devastation becomes clearer by the week. In a rational world, neither the U.K. nor the EU could afford to add another crisis to the current, unprecedented recession. Then there is politics.

On the EU side, France is playing hardball on fisheries and may demand concessions on other matters before it agrees to a deal. But most EU leaders seem willing to send London a stern warning that the days of posturing for domestic opinion are over. And they will insist on strict governance and implementation guarantees for any deal, after Johnson made Parliament vote for a bill that reneges on last year’s protocol on Ireland.

Read: London joins raft of European cities facing tough new restrictions, as leaders battle second COVID-19 wave



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