This is not news that will calm things down between the European Union and London. As negotiations resumed to avoid a Brexit-year deal, British MPs on Tuesday approved Boris Johnson’s government bill, which partly reverses the UK’s exit agreement from the EU. After their divorce at the start of the year, the two parties set themselves the goal of reaching a free trade agreement in October to avoid a potentially devastating “no deal” on January 1st.
Negotiations resumed Tuesday in Brussels for a ninth round but the previous eight have failed to produce any major breakthroughs and tension escalated in September when Boris Johnson’s government introduced a bill contradicting the treaty governing their divorced. The text, which by London’s own admission violates international law, was approved in the evening in third reading by the deputies at 340 for and 256 against, paving the way for its consideration by the Lords in the weeks to come.
The green light comes as no surprise given Boris Johnson’s overwhelming majority in the House of Commons, despite criticism from five former prime ministers and part of the ruling Tories. To appease the anger within its camp, the government had accepted an amendment giving more power to the Parliament to control the controversial provisions, without satisfying Brussels which threatened with a legal action for lack of withdrawal by the end of September.
Read also Brexit: a decisive week (one more!)
A blow to mutual trust
The text returns to certain provisions for the British province of Northern Ireland, planned to avoid the return of a border with the Republic of Ireland, a safeguard considered essential to the maintenance of peace on the island. For Boris Johnson, the aim of the project is to defend the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom by ensuring the continuity of trade between Great Britain and the province of Northern Ireland. But for Europeans, it is a blow to mutual trust in the critical phase of negotiations on the future relationship, led by Michel Barnier on the European side and David Frost on the British side.
At the end of a meeting Monday with the British Minister Michael Gove, the Vice-President of the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic, ruled out that the subject could torpedo trade talks: “It will never be the EU that will provoke the end of negotiations on the future partnership. ” The series of discussions which began on Tuesday must end on Friday, in the middle of a European summit in the Belgian capital. Negotiators hope to reach the negotiating “tunnel”, that time when an agreement seems close enough to engage in continuous closed-door talks. Time is running out: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set a date of October 15, the day of a European summit in Brussels, for an agreement. The Europeans have given themselves until the end of October.
Read also Brexit: Joe Biden’s warning to Boris Johnson
“The EU must be realized …”
In the absence of an agreement, a sudden break in trade would further shake economies already weakened by the new coronavirus pandemic. The trade talks still stumble on several sensitive subjects, such as the “governance” of the future agreement, or the eternal question of the guarantees required by the EU in fiscal, social, environmental matters and especially of State aid, to avoid to see the emergence of a deregulated economy on the other side of the Channel, which would compete with it unfairly.
Read also Brexit: Boris Johnson had been preparing his coup since… February!
An agreement must also be found on fishing, a particularly explosive subject for a handful of member states like France, but also Spain, Denmark, Belgium or the Netherlands, which hope for a status quo in the access of their fishermen to British waters, very full of fish. Several diplomats from other Member States – who have no interest in this subject – however judge the EU “too strict” on fishing, which they imagine as a possible adjustment variable with the United Kingdom. “The partnership will be approved unanimously. We must therefore take into account the different interests of the other Member States and show solidarity. Having said that, the EU must be realistic …”, underlines one of them. .