Barnier presented his conclusions from the most recent round of negotiations. He said that he was disappointed and concerned by the lack of progress, even saying that: “At times it felt as if they were going backwards, more than forwards.”
‘Four months and ten days, four months and ten days’
Barnier stressed, that to be ready for the end of the transition period, a deal needed to be reached by the end of October, to leave sufficient time for legal experts to verify and validate text in all 23 official languages, it would also require the agreement of the EU’s 27 member states and the European Parliament. He said that any delay beyond October would risk a successful outcome, making a ‘no deal’ end to transition more likely.
He was disappointed as “the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told us in June that he wished to speed up the negotiating process during the summer but this week, once again, as in the July round, the British negotiators have not shown any real willingness to move forward on issues of fundamental importance for the European Union and this despite the flexibility which we have shown over recent months, in terms of taking on board and working with the three red lines for which Boris Johnson himself set out in June.” Barnier said that he simply did not understand why the UK was "wasting precious time".
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is currently holidaying in Scotland.
The EU has repeated that any trade agreement will require fair standards and a level playing field. It will also require a long-term perspective on fisheries, as opposed to the UK’s proposal for annual agreements - an area in which he said: “We made no progress whatsoever.” Finally, the EU will not allow cherry-picking of the internal market. Barnier threw back the phrase ‘Brexit means Brexit’, he seemed to think that British negotiators hadn’t fully understood that Brexit would have consequences and that they were becoming very real as the UK approaches the end of the transition period.
Barnier gave the example of road freight transport, which has received much coverage in the British press over the last week: “For years after the Brexit referendum vote, what is happening is the clear and direct consequence of the Brexit vote. Nobody should be surprised at that. Road transport is a key sector for our economies. It represents millions of jobs in Europe. And it is a sector which also has a direct impact on the costs paid by consumers, it has a direct impact on pollution and climate and indeed on road safety as well.
“British negotiators do not want certain standards to apply to British carriers when they are present on the territory of the European Union, that was repeated again this week. This applies to working hours, to installing modern tachiographs in lorry cabins in order to verify working hours and rest times for workers. They have refused to agree to these guarantees on the one hand, but on the other hand, they are asking for a level of access to the internal market comparable to that of a member state while these states accept these standards and constraints.
“Why should we grant the same access to British operators, to British carriers, as to EU carriers if they are not bound by the same standards in terms of environmental protection, consumer protection in the same way?”
Barnier welcomed the legal text put forward by the UK but said that it would only be possible to have a consolidated text by working together. He said that a document that didn’t reflect the EU’s concerns was a “non-starter”.
The European Commission is also monitoring progress on the withdrawal agreement adopted by the British parliament at the beginning of the year. It has recommenced its tour of the capitals, via virtual means, to accompany national administrations in preparing for Brexit.
UK Chief Negotiator David Frost said: “Agreement is still possible, and it is still our goal, but it is clear that it will not be easy to achieve. Substantive work continues to be necessary across a range of different areas of potential UK-EU future co-operation if we are to deliver it.” In contrast to Barnier’s view, “that the negotiations were going backwards more than forwards”, Frost only referred to making little progress. However, failure to make headway against a hard deadline places ever more pressure on an eleventh-hour agreement which would work against the weaker party in the negotiations. While the EU also wants an agreement, the UK needs this more.
The UK is still insisting on its approach, which will give the UK full sovereign control over its own laws, but trade agreements - especially comprehensive ones - usually require co-operation or even relinquishing of certain rights. In its discussions with the US and other potential trade agreements, the UK must already have discovered that this is commonplace and unsurprising. The demands of the EU merely reflect the fact that free trade within its borders is based on tight regulatory co-operation between sovereign states, it is not going to throw these rules away for a third country.
UK to respond to EU legal action over Northern Ireland by mid-May
Britain has agreed with the European Union that it will respond to the bloc’s legal action over how it has introduced new trading rules for Northern Ireland by mid-May, a spokeswoman for the government said on Wednesday (14 April), writes Elizabeth Piper.
The EU launched legal action against Britain in March for unilaterally changing trading arrangements for Northern Ireland that Brussels says are in breach of the Brexit divorce deal agreed with London last year.
Britain has denied that the move undermines the part of the Brexit deal that governs trade to the British province, saying it extended the grace period for checks on goods moving to Northern Ireland to ease their passage.
“In line with precedent that typically allows two months to respond to proceedings of this kind, we have agreed with the EU that we will respond to the Letter of Formal Notice by mid-May,” the spokeswoman said.
“We’ve been clear that the measures we have taken are lawful and part of a progressive and good faith implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.”
Since leaving the EU’s single market at the end of last year, supermarkets in Northern Ireland have seen some shortages of food, and the British government has also delayed introducing checks on parcels and pets.
The difficulties stem from the terms of Britain’s withdrawal agreement, which leaves Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods and so requires checks on goods arriving there from other parts of the United Kingdom.
The two sides are due to meet on Thursday for talks on Northern Ireland at a meeting unlikely to reach a breakthrough but seen more as a staging post as London and Brussels try to find a way to ease differences over trade.
UK and EU edge closer to deal on Brexit checks in Northern Ireland
The UK is edging towards a new deal with the EU on Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland with the potential for easing border checks on certain goods. Officials in London and Brussels have been involved in intense “technical talks” in the past two weeks over the future checks on food, plants and parcels going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
Downing Street’s official spokesman said the discussions had been constructive but that there were “still significant differences that need to be resolved”. The cabinet minister David Frost spoke by phone to the European commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič on Friday.
Sources said that while progress has been made on Northern Ireland, efforts did not involve removing checks on goods but instead were being concentrated on removing the series of “rolling deadlines” from the implementation of border controls.
One option is a new series of agreed milestones to be achieved involving agreement with business and civic society before each stage of the protocol is implemented. It would mirror public health experts’ “data not dates” advice to Boris Johnson regarding the easing of lockdown in England.Advertisementhttps://fe51aebfd36b7b7e45cc937da958003b.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
The talks began a fortnight ago after relations with the EU reached a low point, with Brussels launching legal action against the UK for taking a unilateral decision to extend the grace period for checks on supermarket goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
A cabinet source played down the row, claiming the dispute was a result of an unfortunate “mismatch in the communications last month”. This reflects revived urgent efforts to sort out the situation and a recognition in London that a joint approach is the way forward.
This is a change in policy from February when Michael Gove demanded the protocol be delayed until 2023.
Last week the Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, told political parties in Belfast that the protocol would not be scrapped, despite demands by the Democratic Unionist party and others, and seven consecutive nights of violence in Northern Ireland.
There is urgent political need to calm the atmosphere in Northern Ireland but there is also recognition in London, Dublin and Brussels that any deal centring on the protocol will not address loyalist protests. Brexit checks down the Irish Sea have enraged loyalist communities who see the trade border as an assault on Northern Ireland’s place in the union of the UK.
EU sources have put it to UK officials that 90% of border checks could disappear if Britain agreed to align food standards with those of the bloc.
Ireland’s Europe minister, Thomas Byrne, told the BBC the situation was “delicate” but he said it would be “excellent” if a veterinary deal could be achieved as it would solve problems both in Northern Ireland and those facing food exporters in Great Britain.
But many see such a food agreement as unlikely because entering into such as deal would represent a complete U-turn for the UK, which opposed regulatory alignment to achieve a hard Brexit.
There have been suggestions that the border checks could be significantly eased if the UK adopted an agreement along the lines of that operating for Australia and New Zealand agrifood trade. However, industry insiders say this would not address loyalist concerns as it still requires paperwork.
The agrifood sector is instead urging the EU and UK to take a pragmatic approach by extending the categories of goods deemed not at risk of crossing into the Republic of Ireland to include food.
The current talks are focusing on a new implementation programme outlined in a plan delivered by London to Brussels a fortnight ago. The EU has also requested real-time access to customs and border check data in Belfast ports.
UK asks for more time to respond to EU Brexit legal action: RTE TV
Britain has asked for more time to respond to legal action taken by the European Union over its unilateral decision to ease requirements of the Northern Ireland Protocol, Ireland’s RTE television reported on Wednesday (14 April), writes Conor Humphries.
“The request came in two letters from the UK’s chief Brexit minister David Frost,” RTE correspondent Tony Connelly said in a Twitter post.
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