Britain and the European Union have a good chance of striking a deal on future relations, the British government’s Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis (pictured) said on Sunday (25 October),writes William James.
The United Kingdom left the EU in January but the two sides are trying to clinch a deal that would govern nearly a trillion dollars in annual trade before a transition period of informal membership ends on Dec. 31.
Talks resumed last week after Britain walked away in frustration at what it saw as the EU’s unwillingness to compromise on key issues. On Friday (23 October), Britain said there had been good progress since the restart.
Britain’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper said the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier was planning to extend his stay in London until Wednesday (28 October).
Asked about that report, and the overall prospects of a deal, Lewis told the BBC: “I’m always an optimist...and I hope and I think there’s a good chance we can get a deal, but the EU need to understand it is for them to move as well.”
Lewis restated the government position that it would rather leave without a deal - a scenario it calls leaving on Australian terms - than accept a deal which is not in Britain’s interests.
Addressing the European Parliament this morning (25 November) European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that she couldn’t say whether the EU would be able to reach a deal with the UK on its future relationship before the end of the year. She said the EU side was willing to be creative, but that it would not put the integrity of the Single Market in question.
While there has been genuine progress on a number of important questions, such as law enforcement, judicial co-operation, social security coordination and transport, von der Leyen said that the three ‘crucial’ topics of level playing field, governance and fisheries remained to be resolved.
The EU is seeking robust mechanisms to ensure that competition with the UK remains free and fair over time. This is not something that the EU can skate over, given its proximity and the scale of existing trade ties and integration in EU supply chains. The UK has to date been ambiguous about how it would deviate from European norms that it played no small role in shaping, but the logic of Brexit supporters is that the UK could become more competitive through deregulation; a point of view that obviously makes some EU partners a little ill at ease.
‘Trust is good, but law is better’
The need for clear legal commitments and remedies has become starker following the UK’s decision to introduce an Internal Market Bill that includes provisions that would allow it to deviate from parts of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol. Von der Leyen said that strong governance was essential in "the light of recent experience".
On fisheries, von der Leyen said that no-one questioned the UK’s sovereignty of its own waters, but held that the EU needed "predictability and guarantees for fishermen and fisherwomen who have been sailing in these waters for decades, if not centuries".
Von der Leyen thanked the parliament for their support and understanding in the difficulties such a late agreement presented to them. A final deal will be several hundred pages long and need to be legally scrubbed and translators; this is unlikely to be ready by the next plenary session of the European Parliament in mid-December. It is generally acknowledged that if a deal is to be arrived at a plenary on 28 December will be needed. Von der Leyen said: “We will walk those last miles together.”
British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak (pictured) said on Tuesday (24 November) that he was determined that the United Kingdom would remain a global leader for asset management after Brexit, writes William Schomberg.
“We’re beginning a new relationship with the EU. And as we do so, we are determined that the UK will remain a global leader for asset management,” Sunak said in comments to a conference organized by The Investment Association, an industry group.
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said on Monday (23 November) that he hoped that the outline of a Brexit free trade deal will have emerged by the end of the week and urged unprepared smaller Irish exporters to get ready for change, whether there is a deal or no deal. The European Union’s Brexit negotiator said on Monday that big differences persisted but that both sides were pushing hard for a deal, as talks resumed,writes Padraic Halpin.
Moves will have to be made on some of the key issues such as fisheries and the so-called “level playing field”, Martin said. But he added that he had got a sense of progress from both negotiating teams, and that a presentation last week from EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was probably one of the more hopeful to date.
“I would be hopeful that, by the end of this week, that we could see the outlines of a deal, but that remains to be seen. It is down to political will, both in the United Kingdom and I’m clear the political will is there from the European Union,” Martin told reporters.
On a visit to Dublin port, Ireland’s largest freight and passenger port, Martin said that, while 94% of Irish importers from the UK and 97% of exporters had completed the necessary customs paperwork to continue trading with Britain, he was worried by the take-up among some small and medium-sized firms.
“The one concern I’d have is maybe there is a complacency among some SMEs out there that everything will be OK and ‘Sure if they get a deal, won’t it be OK?’. It will be different, and you have to get that into your heads,” Martin said. “The world will change and it will not be as seamless as it once was. The bottom line is you need to get ready. It is not too late, people just need to knuckle down now.”