The thin red line in Brexit

One step before the chaotic Brexit, without a trade agreement, was the United Kingdom and the European Union last night, as, despite the intensive negotiations of the last three days, the essential differences between the two sides remained largely bridged. The only issue on which Brussels and London agreed was that, if there is no compromise at the highest political level within a maximum of 48 hours, then a non-consensual divorce should be taken for granted, with implications for markets, workers and citizens, on both sides of the English Channel.

The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen contacted last night and agreed to meet in the next few days in Brussels, in a last-ditch effort to bridge the differences.

Earlier, the head of the European negotiators, Michel Barnier, showed no signs of tangible progress when he briefed the “27” ambassadors in Brussels. The atmosphere in the meeting was described as “very pessimistic” by Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coweni, whose country is threatened with the worst unrest if negotiations fail. The resumption of “hard” borders between the Irish state and Northern Ireland, which belongs to the United Kingdom, could torpedo the peace agreements that ended the political violence on the island.

Diplomatic sources say that in the last twenty-four hours there has been an approach (although it is still far from the agreement) on the issue of European countries’ fishing rights in British waters. However, the gap remained in the other two contentious issues that prevent an agreement from being reached. The first of these concerns the rules for ensuring a level playing field.

The EU Insists that Britain respect European rules on labor relations, environmental protection and national subsidies, so that it does not gain unfair competitive advantage under a free trade agreement. The Johnson administration insisted that these matters were the responsibility of the government of each sovereign state. The other issue at stake is how to resolve any legal disputes that may arise during the implementation of the agreement.

Britain formally leaves EU on 31 January 2020, but continues to comply with Union rules on trade, travel and business during the transitional period, which expires on 31 December. If there is no final agreement, then from the New Year of 2021, customs duties, border controls and taxes will be imposed on both sides, which will have an impact on markets and businesses.

“People need to understand that the British are playing with fire, that fire can burn anyone and that it is something we should all avoid,” said Irish Commissioner Merid Magines.