Brexit negotiators aim to salvage a deal by Sunday

11 December 2020

After the post-Brexit negotiations reached its latest impasse, all eyes were on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to break the deadlock this week. No deal was struck, and the negotiators have been given until Sunday to find an accord.

In a week of political leadership, a high-level political dinner was called on Wednesday night to discuss how best to resolve the ongoing Brexit stalemate.

Following a “lively and interesting,” yet “frank” three-hour discussion, the two leaders accepted that their positions remained “far apart”. As with their negotiating teams, the leaders were also not able to break the long-standing deadlock on fisheries, governance and ensuring a post-Brexit socio-economic and environmental level playing.

Allaying concerns that the talks had failed and that a no-deal was inevitable, Johnson and von der Leyen announced that the negotiating teams would immediately resume talks before “coming to a firm decision by Sunday.”

The success of these last-minute negotiations will largely depend on whether Boris Johnson, backed by his Government and parliamentary party, agrees to any further compromises on fisheries and the level playing field.

Commission President von der Leyen and Michel Barnier, meanwhile, are bound by the strict mandate given to them by EU Heads of State and Government and the European Parliament earlier this year and already have most likely no further room to comprise. 

Speaking following a European Council on Friday morning, President von der Leyen said that the negotiating teams remain far apart on fundamental issues and stressed that, “on the level playing field, we have repeatedly made clear to our UK partners that the principle of fair competition is a precondition to privileged access to the EU market”. However, “this is not to say that we would require the UK to follow us every time we decide to raise our level of ambition, for example, in the environmental field. They would remain free – sovereign if you wish – to decide what they want to do”.

Meanwhile, the Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, believed that, “the negotiating teams and senior politicians will find a way of getting a deal”. However, he reinforced that, “but at the moment we’re in a difficult place as we try to close it out”.

Addressing his Parliament this week, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte made clear that the EU should not “give a millimetre” the level playing field, a sentiment shared by Chancellor Merkel when speaking to the German Bundestag.

While both sides have prepared sector-specific guidance for how to prepare for a no-deal, the Commission on Thursday also published contingency plans ensuring basic reciprocity for aviation and road connectivity for a period of six months in the event of a no-deal on 31 December. 

The Commission also proposed a year-long contingency measure that would allow continued reciprocal fishing access by EU and UK vessels to each other’s waters.