Vulcan Insight

With time running out, UK slowly starts engaging on Brexit negotiations

31 July 2020

As Brexit chief negotiators meet in London for their third round of restricted high-level discussions on the future EU-UK relationship, the UK Government is beginning to show signs of engagement, according to EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan.

After leaving the EU’s political and decision-making sphere at the end of January, and ahead of its final departure from the Single Market, the EU and UK have been engaged in tense negotiations over their future social, economic and security relationship from 1 January 2021.

Yet, as chief negotiators Michel Barnier and David Frost last week held their sixth formal negotiation round ahead of an October deadline, the fronts have been somewhat hardened between the former close partners over their competing visions for the relationship.

In particular the issues of ensuring and upholding fair competition, reciprocal fishing rights and the role of the European Court of Justice progress hav, so far, been either slow or non-existent due to the UK Government’s failure to substantially engage, according to Mr. Barnier. He also derides London’s underlying refusal to accept the legal and regulatory “consequences” of leaving the EU’s Single Market.

According to European Commissioner for Trade, Phil Hogan, the Boris Johnson-led Government has only started to engage with the EU on the most contentious issues “in the last week or two,” adding that “five or six” key issues remained that prevented a final deal from being signed.

Mr. Hogan, who had been fairly outspoken on Brexit on behalf of the Commission throughout the 2016 campaign, told the Guardian that he welcomed a recent change of attitude from the UK side, from political posturing to “meaningful negotiations.” He claimed that this change in attitude was down to increased pressure from business looking for an agreement, and time running out on the negotiators.

However, Mr. Hogan stressed that on one of the key issues, state aid, the EU was still in the dark over the UK’s planned future state aid regime as the Government still had not published any guidance on the topic. “In order to settle [the negotiations], we need to hear what they will propose,” he added.

In a sign of the deep divisions between the two parties, a UK Government spokesperson, responding to Mr. Hogan’s comments, blamed the slow progress on the future relationship negotiations on the “EU’s unusual approach.” That is the EU’s aim for a comprehensive and single institutional with sectoral chapters, while the UK Government prefers distinctly separate sectoral agreements. While this may allow talks to advance on relatively low-issue topics, it would also significantly increase the likelihood of the UK leaving the Single Market without clear safeguards on state aid or fisheries – an outcome unacceptable to the EU.