Countdown: will Brexit trade negotiations be extended?

The United Kingdom and the European Union were forced to suspend substantive negotiations on the future of their trade relations after Brexit in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the British Government’s plan, they should end the transition by 31 December 2020.

Ambitious goals.

The second act of British withdrawal from the EU – namely, negotiations on the future of trade relations – should be completed by January 1, 2021. Then the transition period of Brexit, prescribed in British law, will come to an end. However, the parties must decide whether it will be extended until July 1 this year – in fact, to mark the canvas of the trade agreement, they have only 2.5 months left.

– The goal of completing the negotiations before the end of the transition period was initially too ambitious. This deadline was set by British conservatives in their dreams, and it has nothing to do with reality – Katerina Koneczna, a Czech politician and a member of the EP committee on the domestic market and consumer protection. – Of course, anything is possible with the will, but with COVID-19 in mind, Brexit’s transition period should be postponed to a later date.

UK to change migration laws after BrexitHer colleague German politician Gunnar Beck, member of the EP Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, shares this view. He believes that due to the pandemic and quarantine in Europe the negotiations will have to be extended for at least 4-6 months.

– Achieving agreement on a number of fundamental issues by July is nothing more than an illusion,” the politician said. – So far, the British government has insisted that there should be no extension. In my opinion, this is extremely optimistic, and in the end the British leadership will have to change its position.

In the meantime, London is firmly on its feet – as the British Embassy in Russia said, “the end of the transition period on December 31, 2020 is fixed in British law, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson made it clear that he does not intend to change it.

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, trade negotiations between London and Brussels, launched in early March, had to be suspended.

An additional argument was the contamination of COVID-19 by the chief negotiator for the EU, Michel Barnier, which he described in mid-month. Later it became known that the coronavirus was also picked up by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. April 10, the British media reported that after a few days in the intensive care unit, the Prime Minister went on the mend, and April 12, it became known that he was discharged from hospital. However, according to Sky News, he will be able to return to his duties in a month at the earliest. And even if the current government guarantees Boris Johnson continuity of his course, the fact that the head of government, who set the tone for negotiations on Brexit, will be temporarily shut down from the process, slightly weakens the position of London.

The parties intend to continue contacts on the trade agreement in the near future. As Michel Barnier said on Twitter on April 8, on Wednesday, April 15, he will contact his British counterpart David Frost to set a schedule for further negotiation rounds. David Frost himself “assured everyone” that contacts between London and Brussels “in these difficult times” have not ceased, and the parties have already exchanged legal documents on the future of trade relations.

Problem issues

– The key problem lies in the differences between the approaches: Britain is trying to get as much benefit as possible from the pan-European market by imposing as few obligations as possible. This is why the European Union must ensure that under no circumstances will a third state – the United Kingdom – enjoy the same rights as the member states,” says Kateryna Konechnina. – London constantly frightens the EU with the fact that there will be no deal, forgetting that such a scenario will first of all hit Britain itself.

European Parliament to ratify UK's secession treatyCritics of such a short period of time are relying on the fact that negotiations on EU trade with third countries last for years, and for the UK, despite its common historical past, there is no need to wait for strong concessions. Among the issues that have yet to be resolved are the following:

-compliance with EU standards on public aid, the environment and product requirements, as well as some employment and fiscal policy rules;
-fisheries – the EU wants to maintain the current regime, and Britain insists that local fishermen will have an advantage in its national waters;
-the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union;
-finance – The EU wants to maintain regulatory control over the City of London, while Britain seeks greater autonomy and wants to avoid potential crises in the eurozone as much as possible;
-cooperation in the areas of external and internal security, including the exchange of confidential information and intelligence;
-cooperation between courts and police in civil and criminal matters.

According to Gunnar Beck, the last two points are unlikely to become a stumbling block – compliance with EU standards, financial control and jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union may be the biggest challenges.