Things stop here: Britain officially left the EU on 31 January. Since then, in a transition period in key areas, especially in trade, where it still complies with EU rules in return for business as usual.
The whole aim of the transition period was to create a space where both parties could safely negotiate their future relationships without disrupting their jobs and citizens. However, this transition period ends on December 31, and sources on both sides say these negotiations are not going well.
The epidemic did not help political stalemates. Negotiating teams could not physically meet, relying on video conferencing tools. The next round of virtual talks will begin on Tuesday, but sources on both sides said it has hurt the quality of the negotiations, as individuals cannot devote to private conversations on how to solve spiky problems. The scale of the coronavirus crisis overshadowed the urgency of the Brexit talks.
Johnson should now spend June looking through complex and full negotiations with the world’s largest trade bloc, as well as overseeing the country’s response to the worst public health crisis in decades.
Both sides agreed that June would be used as a period to consider whether there was an agreement in sight or whether they would be able to put bullets in the negotiations respectfully and prepare for a scenario without a deal.
No deal is almost universally considered the worst possible outcome. The British economy is mainly based on imports from Europe. The maximum disruption in this trade will affect life in the supply chains, making life a hell for businesses like automakers who trust them and cause potential problems in home basic needs such as food for consumers. Numerous studies have predicted that this will be a major economic blow to both the household and the country in general.
Although neither the UK nor the EU claim that they want this outcome, negotiators are becoming more and more likely to fear the political stalemate. “If we want an EU unreasonable, a free trade agreement, we should demand that we continue to follow EU rules,” according to a British government official who does not have the authority to speak about the ongoing record. negotiations. “Obviously, they know we can’t accept it. If we did, what would Brexit mean?” said the same source.
The rules they speak of are a particularly thorny part of the negotiations known as “level playground”. This is basically an agreement on certain rules and standards designed to interrupt businesses on one side and businesses on the other. The EU’s only market is the largest economic block in the world. The level playground is supervised by EU courts and institutions. And if Britain wants uncontrolled access after the transition period – like Johnson’s position last fall when she signed the first Brexit deal with the EU – then the EU will need it to sign up for these rules.
The level-playing area is not the only area Brussels and London do not see. There are disagreements about fishing rights, security and governance and exactly what happens on the Irish island. However, negotiators in both London and Brussels are confident that a protracted crisis caused by the impending cliff edge will drag both sides together. The same cannot be said for differences on a flat playing field.
Britain said it would reduce its desire to trade off-tariff with the EU if the EU lowers playground demands. The EU is not concerned with this idea because it believes that there is not enough time left to negotiate tariffs on the transition period.
In theory, it could take more time if Johnson wanted to go this route. It has until 30 June to extend the transition period. However, it would be so toxic politically that it seems unthinkable for Johnson’s advisors right now. Any perceived surrender would make Johnson into trouble with his supporters, making the toxicity of the Brexit debate more likely.
Also, the pandemic oddly creates an opportunity to mask the negative effects of Brexit on the UK economy. “There’s a certain logic that says let’s deal with both economic disruptions right away,” said Anand Menon, director of the British think tank in the changing Europe.
“From the supply chains to the way the whole economy works, everything will change as a result of this virus. Therefore, while two things aren’t really related, they can make the other worse. Some logically, they do it all at once.”
Better still, the pandemic creates space for the government to throw money on any major blows on the road, if worst.
“Some parts of the economy will be hit by both Brexit and coronavirus,” said Raoul Ruparel, Brexit advisor to Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May. If Johnson spent government money to soften the impact in these areas, he could see that there was less opposition than he spent money only to offset the effect of Brexit, because there is much more unity in the political spectrum on the need. Such expenses to help get rid of Covid-19. “
Member states in Brussels resulted in no agreement concluded at the end of the year some time ago. “We no longer emotionally invest in Britain’s decisions,” said a European diplomat living in Brussels. “A country outside the EU, we are focusing on our coronavirus recovery,” said the same source.
This level of indifference is not uncommon among EU institutions that an official working on the negotiations “made Britain free to do whatever it wanted” and Brussels made a shrug at the end of June. .
The EU has for some time believed that it will deal better with Britain, without a dispute shock. “The EU knows this is in a stronger position. Yes, there is no bad deal for them, but much worse for the UK,” says a former EU negotiator Thomas Cole. “It is true that both sides are dominant, but they are very aware that Britain does not have to make concessions to make.”
And just like in the UK, the coronavirus can facilitate certain non-agreement calculations for the EU to swallow over the long term. “Paradoxically, no aspect of the deal can make it more manageable for the EU,” said Fabian Zuleeg, CEO of the European Policy Center. “Companies wishing to shrink their operations in Europe after Covid may decide that it is easier to completely close UK offices and factories. In fact, it solves some problems in some ways.”
Of course, both sides are not asking for an agreement and both are telling journalists that they are still determined to break this deadlock and achieve a mutually beneficial solution. However, if Brexit is history, political crime is likely to get worse as it enters June.
If the talks collapse, both sides wait for the other to point the fingers and try to play the victim. This may be politically suited to Johnson in the short term as he plays the brave leader who stands up against European bullying. However, as Menon points out, the world after Covid is already looking for a messy, unpredictable place.
“Everyone is angry with China and God knows what will happen in the US elections,” he said. “Does Britain really want to spit with Europe as it emerges from a pandemic and bold new future?”
If Boris Johnson is serious about not reaching an agreement, the combination of negotiations is frozen, both sides are distracted by a pandemic, and this deadline until June is a hellish start to the summer.
This story has been updated to fix the June deadline to request that the UK transition period be extended.