The fact that after the meeting there was talk above all of the metaphors used by the leaders involved to describe the state of the negotiations – Boris Johnson hoped to put a “tiger in the tank”, evoking a well-known publicity from Esso, the president of the European Council Charles Michel replied with an old English proverb that talks about pigs – he makes it clear that there have been no concrete steps forward on the future trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union, that is, the main subject of discussion after the formal release occurred on 1 February.
The problems are the same that have been going on for months, and which had failed the two previous rounds of negotiations in late April and mid-May: the right of European fishermen to access British waters, the measures that the British government must take to avoid what the European Union perceives as unfair competition – mainly in the field of state aid, respect for the environment and workers’ rights – and the arbitration mechanism to resolve any disputes.
The Guardian He also writes that for some time “in Brussels they are appalled that the UK refuses to talk about future cooperation on security and defense”, one of the issues on which European officials did not believe there was a great distance between the two positions.
The United Kingdom and the European Union also have different ideas on the times in which to reach an agreement. In a press conference after Monday’s meeting, Johnson announced that he “sees no reason” that a compromise cannot be found by July.
Politic he writes that Johnson’s statement “will have surprised his European interlocutors, given that no mention was made of it during the meeting”. Two days later, von der Leyen made it clear to the European Parliament that Johnson showed excessive optimism: “while we have spent half the time we have given ourselves for the negotiations, we are not at all half the work necessary to reach an agreement”.
Times are quite tight. On 1 February the UK entered a transition phase which will end on 31 December 2020. European and British negotiators are trying to find a compromise on the future trade agreement by that date, in order to avoid unpleasant consequences. In case of non-agreement, the countries of the European Union should in fact impose duties on the United Kingdom, making British products enormously more expensive and less convenient. The British government would probably do the same, damaging the European countries with which it has the greatest trade ties (i.e. above all Ireland).
Under the agreements, the UK had until July 1 to request an extension of the transition period, but Johnson has repeatedly stated that he has no intention of doing so: both because he promised to complete Brexit on schedule and for do not complicate your life with further negotiations that could last months or even years (i.e. the time frame that usually takes to negotiate a detailed trade agreement).
There are other elements to think that Johnson’s announcement was a gimmick to put pressure on the European Union. European and British negotiators have already set the schedule for meeting both in July and August, while second Politic “Regardless of what Johnson says, the UK believes it can tear up a compromise for September, while the European Union thinks in late October as a limit for approving and ratifying an agreement.”
The times coincide with those mentioned in an internal document of the German government obtained and published by Reuters, in which the priorities to be maintained in the coming weeks are also mentioned. The opinion of German officials is particularly important because from July to December Germany will obtain the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, the body in which the governments of the 27 nation states are represented and which at some point will have to approve the possible agreement on Brexit.
“From September the negotiations will enter a hot phase”, the German government report reads: “the United Kingdom is already increasing the threats against Brussels, wants to get as many things in the shortest time possible and hopes to reach a agreement last minute. For this reason it will be important that the 27 countries remain united and continue to insist on parallel progress on various dossiers, as well as making it clear that there will be no agreement at any cost “.
British negotiators, however, seem to believe that the German presidency will push for a compromise instead. “I expect the German presidency to reflect Angela Merkel’s pragmatism,” he said Politic David Jones, British MP and Brexit minister in the Theresa May government. “We are fortunate that it happened in the final phase of the negotiations on the future trade agreement”.
In the meantime, the United Kingdom is trying to move forward on other fronts: in July the government will launch a communication campaign to try to prevent criticism and misunderstanding once the United Kingdom is definitively out of the European Union, and in recent days it has started negotiations to strengthen trade relations with Australia and New Zealand.