Here is finally the moment of “drama”, a classic at the end of negotiations, especially when they are difficult. On Friday October 16, in a short interview, Boris Johnson claimed that“In view of the conclusions of the European Council”, it’s clear that ” the European Union [UE] does not want to grant us a Canada-type trade treaty [le CETA, signé par Bruxelles et Ottawa] “.
And the British Prime Minister added: “As we only have ten weeks [avant la fin de la période de transition et la sortie du marché commun], and that the Europeans refuse to discuss seriously, I concluded that we must prepare on 1er January 2021 to arrangements closer to an Australian agreement “, That is to say, the absence of a specific trade agreement – Boris Johnson having decided, in early 2020, to ban “no deal” from his vocabulary. “At the same time, we will focus on the fight against Covid-19 and make 2021 a year of recovery and renewal. ”
Important nuance: the British leader, who had demanded, on September 7, that an agreement with the EU be in sight by October 15, did not say that he was going to stop discussing with the 27 member states of the ‘Union. Rather, he returned the ball to them, telling them to move. “If there is a fundamental change in approach, obviously we are always ready to listen. ” Symmetrically, the Europeans had expressed exactly the same demand the day before, demanding that the UK do “The necessary actions” for the negotiations to succeed.
Tense national context
Even if they officially deny themselves, each of the two parties must accept the compromises necessary for an agreement – the terms of which now appear to be broadly clear. The EU must concede an end to the status quo on access to UK waters, with “regaining control” over them symbolically seen in London as one of the essential gains of Brexit.
Downing Street, on the other hand, must give more pledges to Brussels, which fears unfair competition from the country, especially with regard to state aid. And accept strict rules of governance of the agreement, knowing that Brussels has raised its demands since the publication by London of a bill (the Internal Market Bill), explicitly violating parts of the divorce treaty, yet signed by Boris Johnson at the end of 2019.
The British Prime Minister’s statement comes amid a very tense national context: It has been nearly a week since Downing Street has tried to impose partial containment on whole swathes of northern England, where the Covid-19 epidemic gallops again, but the elected officials of Manchester are resisting. Boris Johnson has an interest in being firm on the Brexit front, his strategy to fight the second pandemic wave through regional reconfigurations being contested for the moment.
Will his exit have had the desired effect when there are only a handful of weeks left to agree? The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in any case reacted almost immediately on Friday, announcing that the EU negotiators will be in London on Monday, October 19, for “Intensify” the talks. By adding the now very classic “The EU continues to work for a deal, but not at any cost.”
Macron: “We are stumbling over everything”
Not ready to release the pressure, and faithful to his role of Brexit “bad cop”, Emmanuel Macron said shortly after: “The UK has the most to lose from a ‘no deal'”, because “He needs access to the European internal market”. The French president again accused London of using “Fishing as a tactical question”. “We are stumbling over everything”, well beyond fishing, he concluded.
An agreement on the post-Brexit trade relationship requires “Efforts, in particular from the United Kingdom”, he hammered. “The problem is far from being just fishing, it is much more fundamental”he replied to a reporter who asked him if he was prepared for the EU-London negotiations to fail because of the issue.
“You are the victim of information poisoning, the state of our discussions is not that we are stumbling on fishing”, he continued, “This is a tactical subject used by the British, because in the event of a ‘no deal’ it would be the only subject where Boris Johnson could say ‘I won'”, he accused. “The Twenty-Seven are not meant to make the Prime Minister of Great Britain happy”, he quipped.
“Our main problem is fair competition rules. Our proposal, which corresponds to our agreement with Switzerland, is access to the single market in return for compliance with our health, environmental and social rules in terms of state aid. The British proposal is access to the single market without following the rules. This is unacceptable “, he insisted.
“The negotiations are over if the EU does not change its position”, nevertheless insisted a spokesperson for Downing Street shortly after the Brussels exits.