The UK can’t have its cake and eat it too, so warned the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier during his address to the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) in Dublin on Tuesday.
In his latest comments on the UK’s lack of engagement in negotiations over its future relationship with the European Union, Barnier stuck to the mantra that an EU-UK partnership was possible, “provided the conditions were right”. Frustration with the UK remains over its reluctance to guarantee open and fair competition, compromise on fisheries and engage meaningfully on horizontal dispute settlement mechanisms.
In February, Barnier set out the EU’s wish list for preparing for Brexit: negotiating the future EU-UK partnership, implementing the withdrawal agreement, and dealing with changes at the end of the transition period. Yet progress over the summer in talks on trade and future ties has been drastically slow. Barnier made clear that, while the EU “has shown openness to possible solutions”, the UK government “has shunned our offers”, refusing to change its position on this issue. Indeed, according to him the UK government hasn’t tabled new legal documents on fisheries during the last negotiating round in mid-August. On the contrary, a UK government spokesperson blamed the EU for “insisting that we must agree on difficult areas in the negotiations, such as EU state aid, before any further work can be done in any other area of the negotiations, including on legal texts”.
In particular, without a long-term, fair and sustainable deal on fisheries, Barnier ruled out the possibility of agreeing a new economic partnership with the UK. Along these lines, the EU negotiator stressed that there will be numerous negative consequences of Brexit but that the two parties should act together responsibly to successfully mitigate the fallout. As the talks flounder, Barnier told the audience in Dublin that the negotiations must centre around the pre-agreed Political Declaration from October 2019 which sets out the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the UK.
During his address, Barnier praised the work of the former Irish Commissioner for Trade, Phil Hogan, who lost his job after his part in the so-called Golfgate scandal. He highlighted Hogan’s value to Brexit negotiations over the last four years, specifically on the Irish concerns. Looking ahead, Barnier said he is keen to start working with the future Irish Commissioner during the last stretch of the negotiations.
The clock is running down of the negotiations with the post-Brexit transition period ending on 31 December. While Brexit negotiations have typically been down to the wire, pressure in on the UK and EU negotiating teams to deliver results. As the eighth round of Brexit talks gets under way in London next week, the French have warned that there is no more time to waste.