The European Union and the United Kingdom are now deciding on the fate of their post-Brexit negotiations, and are expected to either find a failure with grave consequences or judge that an agreement is still possible, just twenty days before. from the final rupture.
Boris Johnson is facing the wrath of his party’s top executives and businessmen as he appears ready to adopt a Brexit without an agreement and is preparing the Royal Navy to defend British fishing waters.
No scenario can be ruled out, including the unexpected announcement of a compromise, as these tense talks, which included bluffs and deadlines that were not met, have been volatile since they began in March.
But the trend yesterday, Saturday, night seemed negative. “In the current situation, the EU offer remains unacceptable,” said a British government source as the talks continued in Brussels and may continue today.
“Any agreement must be fair and respect the fundamental position that the United Kingdom will be a sovereign nation within three weeks,” the source added.
In a sign of escalating tensions, the British Defense Secretary announced on the eve of this new deadline that Royal Navy vessels are ready to protect national fishing zones, where there could be tensions if no agreement is reached.
The decision on whether or not to resume talks will be taken by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson after a telephone conversation today, in light of the latest negotiations, which may continue later in the day.
Compromise is becoming more and more difficult
The two leaders have been trying for days to unblock the political talks, which are at a dead end.
During a dinner on Wednesday night in Brussels, all they could do was find out again that their seats were “far apart”.
However, they gave themselves another chance: an additional three days of negotiations to reach an agreement, before a “final decision” on Sunday.
They have since competed in pessimism, with Johnson estimating a failure “very, very likely” and Von der Laine judging that there is “little” hope for a deal.
The European Commission on Thursday announced urgent measures to resume, in the event of a “no deal”, air traffic between the UK and the EU for six months, as well as mutual access to fishery water for one year.
These measures were demanded by the Member States, which have been trying for months to stay united behind their negotiator, Michel Barnier.
According to a high-ranking European official, French President Emanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel even refused to talk to Boris Johnson separately last Monday.
Despite the increasingly intense talks, the compromise seems impossible between the British, who want to regain full trade freedom, and the Europeans, who want to protect their huge market.
The only thing that is certain is that the United Kingdom, which officially left the EU on 31 January, will leave the single market and the customs union permanently on 31 December.
The possible shock of tariffs
Without a trade agreement, its exchanges with the EU will only take place under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, which are synonymous with customs duties and quotas, risking a new shock for economies already vulnerable to coronavirus.
Discussions stumble on three issues: the access of European fishermen to British waters, how to resolve disputes under the future agreement and, above all, the conditions that Europeans demand in order to avoid unfair competition.
The EU is ready to offer London access to its huge market without customs duties or quotas. The
In this case, however, it wants to ensure that the United Kingdom does not become dumped by setting aside environmental, social or budgetary standards or state aid rules.
If that happens, it wants to be able to quickly take countermeasures, such as customs duties, without waiting for the dispute to be settled in a standard arbitration procedure to protect its businesses. London is firmly opposed to this.
“Defending the single market is a red line for the EU,” said a European source. “What we have proposed in the United Kingdom respects British sovereignty. It could be the basis of an agreement. “