There are less than two holiday filled weeks to reach an agreement on Britain’s exit from the European Union. The transition, in fact, expires on 31 December but the negotiations remain ‘bogged down’ on the issues of fishing and competition rules.
On December 16th there was a phone call between the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, which ended with the EU’s chief negotiator raising hope of a weekend deal. However, the Prime Minister claimed the talks were in a serious situation with a no deal “very likely” with fisheries being a major issue.
The two sides have alternated between hope and despair but are trying to maintain the possibility of a deal. “We think it is responsible to go an extra mile”, said the two sides in a joint statement, read by the president of the Community Executive, explaining that they “mandated our negotiators to go ahead and see if an agreement can be reached”.
This week, Michel Barnier met with the 27 ambassadors to update on the latest news, trying to spread optimism. According to the EU negotiator, it is still possible to reach a new trade deal with the UK. “Two conditions are still not met. Free and fair competition and an agreement that guarantees mutual access to markets and waters. And it is on these points that we have not found the right balance with the British. Therefore, we are still working”, Barnier explained.
On the other hand, Johnson had defined the two sides as still “very distant” on the crucial issues, insisting on the greater possibility of a No Deal.
From London, British Affairs Minister Alok Sharma said the parties were still a long way off in trade negotiations but noted that Prime Minister Boris Johnson still wants to continue negotiations.
“We will continue to discuss, we are obviously distant on some issues, but as the prime minister said, we do not want to leave these talks,” Sharma told Sky television. Adding that “both people and companies are waiting for us to make an extra effort in the UK and that’s what we’re doing”.
The minister, however, reiterated that “any agreement we obtain with the EU must respect the fact that we are a sovereign country, an independent country and this is the basis on which we will make an agreement if there is an agreement to be done”, said Sharma.
The Royal Navy deployed
As fishing remains a major stumbling point, a warning has been sent from London. The Royal Navy, in fact, has been mobilized and four ships have been placed to protect the territorial waters starting from January 1st in the event of a No Deal.
“The no deal is one step away, let’s get ready”, Johnson had warned in recent days, hinting that he had some moves in mind.
The London move was seen as a possible British response to the emergency plans developed by the European Commission which aim to “mitigate some of the most significant disruptions” that could occur from January 1, 2021, in the event of a no deal.
In particular, the plans concern air and road connections, for flight safety and fishing, with proposals to create rules and legal frameworks.
The first floor allows for the continuation of air routes, road transport of people and goods, between the European Union and Great Britain. Another plan concerns the continuation of safety certificates always in air transport.
The last plan provides for the possibility for the parties of reciprocal access to fishing in their own waters until 31 December as is currently the case.