The EU commission on thursday issued an ultimatum to great britain to withdraw plans to amend the current withdrawal agreement by the end of september at the latest. British secretary of state michael gove promptly rejected the idea.
Negotiations on trade pact planned for 2021 also stuck. Considerable differences remain," EU negotiator michel barnier said this evening. EU now to step up preparations for no deal.
The british prime minister boris johnson had alarmed brussel this week with the plan for an "internal market law" that will undermine the exit treaty agreed with the EU in 2019 and later ratified. These are special rules for the UK’s northern ireland to prevent a hard border with the EU state of ireland and new hostilities. Brexit supporters are thorn in the flesh because northern ireland could be cut off from the rest of the united kingdom.
Commission vice president maros sefcovic said after talks with gove in london that the british government had seriously damaged the trust of the european union with its legislative plans. If the law comes into force in the form planned by london, it would be "an extremely serious violation of the withdrawal agreement and of international law," sefcovic warned. The negotiations on the trade treaty were thus put in danger. Gove, however, reacted immediately by saying that his government "will not and cannot" withdraw the planned internal market law.
Actually, both sides wanted to finally make progress this week in the eighth round of negotiations on the way to a trade agreement. Because in less than four months, the transitional period following the UK’s exit from the EU last january will come to an end – without a treaty, there is the threat of a harsh economic rupture. But from the EU’s point of view, the negotiations, which are running parallel to the dispute over the internal market law, have once again failed to make any progress.
British chief negotiator david frost was nevertheless optimistic this evening: "we remain committed to working hard to reach an agreement by mid-october." Barnier sounded a different note: "significant differences remain on the issues that are crucial for the eu."The eu has been flexible on the uk’s red lines, but the reverse has not been the case.
"Mutual trust and confidence is necessary to create a future partnership, and it will be in the future," barnier said. The negotiating teams will remain in contact over the next few days. "At the same time, the EU will intensify its preparations to be ready for all scenarios on 1 january. Being prepared for january 2021."
In fact, the chances of a trade pact have probably declined further. But brussel gossips about johnson’s behavior. Is the prime minister serious about making changes to a valid treaty?? What is driving the domestically troubled prime minister?? Does he give in at the last minute, as he did last year? Or does he really want a big bang at the end of the year – with all the negative consequences?. Economically, there were tariffs, delivery problems, extra costs. Politically it was: lost credibility on the international trading floor.
Despite sefcovic’s clear message, the situation for the eu is delicate. It wants the trade deal to establish a level playing field with the ex-member on its doorstep, avoid tariffs, secure its fishing rights in british waters and settle dozens of issues. And brussel does not want the black peter if this fails. On the other hand, the EU does not want to sign a new treaty with a partner who does not respect the old agreements.
It is not only the EU that holds the british government to account for the indispensability of treaty compliance. Former conservative party leader michael howard bitingly asked in the house of lords: "how can we accuse russia, china or iran of behaving in a way that does not meet internationally accepted standards when we show so little respect for our treaty obligations??"
The warning from the speaker of the u.S. House of representatives, nancy pelosi, was even stronger: if the british government were to break international law and threaten the hard-won stability in northern ireland by going it alone, a trade deal with the u.S. Would have "absolutely no chance" in congress, she told the irish times newspaper.
The german economy agrees with the tenor. "For a free trade agreement with the eu to come into being, fidelity to the agreement on the people’s right to leave is indispensable," said joachim lang, chief executive of the federation of german industry. Hopes of a trade pact are dwindling to an "absolute minimum," complained the machinery manufacturers’ association VDMA.
The question remains: what is johnson trying to achieve?? The brexit dispute is by no means his only problem. In the uk, coronavirus infections are on the rise again, raising fears of a second major wave of outbreaks. The head of government himself seems tired after his own corona illness – so much so that rumors are circulating about a possible early resignation from office. All nonsense, says johnson.
Politically, it is under pressure because of its zigzag course in the pandemic, the economy has slumped even worse than elsewhere in europe. Is he trying to distract? Covering up the damage of brexit or blaming it on others? For some in brussel, the suspicion is obvious. But no one is able to read the unsteady partner in london exactly.