In Depth

When will Brexit be finished?

No. 10 fears EU’s negotiator is no longer in control of talks

Downing Street’s hopes of a Brexit deal are dimming as the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier loses control of talks on fishing rights, according to reports.

David Frost, the UK’s top negotiator, had hoped to discuss fishing quotas during last week’s fourth round of trade talks with Brussels, but the European Commission was unable to go into detail because of opposition led by France.

At internal EU talks two weeks previously, Barnier was told by France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal not to compromise on fishing quotas that give EU boats the majority of fish, reports The Times.

After the latest negotiations failed to break the deadlock, both sides said on Friday there there had been no progress towards an agreement, says The Guardian.

Barnier said “the EU wants the status quo, the UK wants to change everything”, but called for discussions “somewhere between”.

Meanwhile, the UK government said the onus was on Barnier to encourage the EU states to compromise.

“We are now at an important moment for these talks,” a No. 10 spokesperson said. “If we are to make progress, it is clear that we must intensify and accelerate our work. Any such deal must of course accommodate the reality of the UK’s well-established position on the so-called level playing field, on fisheries, and the other difficult issues.”

How are negotiations progressing?

So far, so bad. Barnier said of recent talks: “The round that we have just had is disappointing, very disappointing.”

“They seek to have the same benefits of a member state of our single market without the same rights and obligations,” Barnier added.

The UK’s summation has been equally bleak. Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator told Boris Johnson that Barnier is “losing the argument” in talks, but negotiations could end in no deal. 

David Frost warned the prime minister that the EU would continue to push for there to be a role for the European Court of Justice in British affairs, even if Johnson was to intervene personally in the negotiations to try and break the deadlock, says The Telegraph.

A British government source told the paper Barnier’s attacks were “bewildering” and that the EU’s “arguments on the merits are not working… [so] they’re reaching for some of the old script.”

What happens if a deal is not agreed?

If a deal cannot be reached and no extension is agreed, the UK will be treated as a “third country” by the EU from 31 December 2020, meaning it will enjoy no special advantages or relationship with the bloc.

The UK would have to trade with EU member states on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms.

WTO terms would mean that any trading advantages the UK offered the EU would have to be offered to all other countries signed up to the WTO, due to Most Favoured Nation rules, explains the organisation’s website.

At the same time, the EU would begin imposing border checks on UK products, even if the UK hadn’t changed any of its rules and regulations.

The UK government has admitted it expects massive border queues and persistent delays for six months or longer in the UK if it leaves without securing a deal.

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Will there be a transition period extension?

There are six weeks until the end of June, the current legally binding deadline for an extension request.

Downing Street has repeatedly rejected calls for it to extend the transition period, and insisted the UK will cut ties with the EU at the end of the year if no trade agreement is reached.

In April, the government responded directly to an online petition requesting a Brexit transition extension: “The transition period ends on 31 December 2020, as enshrined in UK law. The Prime Minister has made clear he has no intention of changing this. We remain fully committed to negotiations with the EU.”

But Barnier has been told there is “significant opposition” to the government’s refusal to consider extending the timetable for talks.

The acting Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey, and the SNP leader at Westminster, Ian Blackford, have written to Barnier offering their support for an extension, reports ITV News.

Such a move would allow talks to take place when “the efforts of national governments and the European Union will not be engaged solely with dealing with the dreadful Covid-19 epidemic”, they said.

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