The long winding road to Brexit got bumpier during this week. While as Euronews points out, “the EU-UK trade talks were never going to be plain sailing”, COVID-19 complicated matters. As the June deadline for significant progress is looming, key arguments remain unresolved.
From a negotiators’ perspective both chief negotiator Michel Barnier and the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson were personally affected.
On Friday, the third round of talks between the EU and the U.K. on their future relationship ended again with “very little progress made,” according to both sides, and plenty of hostile rhetorical flourishes, POLITICO reports.
Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost said the “major obstacle” remains the bloc’s “insistence” on the U.K. abiding by EU laws and standards in exchange for access to its single market. The U.K. continues to oppose this demand, arguing Brussels does not require this of other countries it has signed free-trade deals with, such as Canada.
More bumps in the road came this week, as the EU Commission opened infringement proceedings against the UK accusing it of failure to comply with EU law on free movement.
In fact the European Commission launched infringement proceedings against the United Kingdom for failure to comply with EU law on the free movement of EU citizens and their family members. UK national legislation limits the scope of beneficiaries of EU free movement law in the United Kingdom as well as the possibilities for EU citizens and their family members to appeal administrative decisions restricting free movement rights. The Commission considers that the United Kingdomhas thereby breached the Free Movement Directive 2004/38/EC as well as EU rules on freedom of movement of EU citizens (Article 21 TFEU), freedom of movement of workers (Article 45 TFEU) and freedom of establishment (Article 49 TFEU). EU law on free movement of persons continues to apply to and in the United Kingdomas if it were still an EU Member State during the transition period. Furthermore, the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK after the end of the transition period, as set out in the Withdrawal Agreement, are built on the rights that they currently enjoy in the United Kingdom under EU rules. The United Kingdom’s shortcomings in the implementation and transposition of EU free movement law risks therefore also affecting the implementation of the citizens’ rights under the Withdrawal Agreement after the end of the transition period. For these reasons, the Commission decided to send a letter of formal notice to the United Kingdom– the first step in the infringement process. The United Kingdom now has four months to take the necessary measures to address the shortcomings identified by the Commission. Otherwise, the Commission may send a reasoned opinion to the UK authorities.
POLITICO’s analysts commented “London has always stressed it’s willing to take that risk. The U.K. still exhibits certain coolness about the possibility of a no-deal crash or — in the words of the U.K. senior negotiating official — “Australia terms.”
“We’ve always made clear that if an agreement can’t be reached then trading on what we call Australia terms is perfectly doable and satisfactory. We’ve always made clear that we want to try and get to a deal and that’s what we’re working hard to do.”
More and more this looks like a risk the EU is also more willing to take than to give in on its core issues. “The single market is our biggest plus point and won’t sacrifice it for the sake of these negotiations,” Barnier said. “The U.K. cannot pick and choose the most attractive elements of the single market without meeting obligations even EU members must meet.”
The bloc even seems ready to move to the side of the road and watch the U.K. drive itself off the cliff.
The EU has repeatedly stressed that the U.K. has much more to lose in a no-deal scenario then the EU, even though a disorderly Brexit at the end of the year would be a major blow for the EU economy as well, especially when it coincides with the recovery from the corona crisis. The EU, too, would then be unable to do anything to tame the competitor on its doorstep, should the U.K. wish to undercut the bloc.
But at his press conference, Barnier said the EU is ready for a no deal and will step up preparations. According to one EU diplomat, that’s not just bluff. “The probability of a no-deal Brexit is increasing. That once seemed like our worst nightmare. But with this corona crisis, it’s just not on top of the political agenda anymore”, adds POLITICO.
COMUNIQ.EU via Reuters / POLITICO /European Commission