British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Europe adviser David Frost and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier met face-to-face for the first time since the coronavirus crisis started on Monday to thrash out a post-Brexit trade deal. The pandemic forced UK and EU negotiators to hold virtual talks.
The meeting comes just a day after it was announced that Mr. Frost would replace Sir Mark Sedwill as national security adviser.
Johnson remains optimistic that a UK-EU free trade deal can be agreed by the end of July, but if the agreement has any hope of being ratified before the end of the year, then all negotiations must be completed by the end of October.
The UK ‘Will Have to Live with the Consequences of Brexit’
There are many reasons to believe that a deal may not happen. On Saturday, the Prime Minister warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he is prepared to walk away from EU trade talks after Merkel suggested that the UK will ‘have to live with the consequences of Brexit.’
But Merkel’s upcoming presidency of the EU could be an opportunity for both sides to make some progress towards a trade deal. With the bloc’s most powerful leader occupying its presidency, the Chancellor is likely to adopt a pragmatic stance during the final months of Britain’s transition period.
She told her EU counterparts recently that the autumn deadline to conclude an agreement is fast approaching, which shows that she is keen to ensure that the UK does not quit the bloc without a deal.
Brexit is a ‘Wake Up Call’ for the Rest of the EU
At the start of the year, she also warned that Brexit is a ‘wake up call’ for the rest of the EU as Merkel fears that Britain could become the EU’s main economic competitor on the continent. However, a free trade deal between the UK and the bloc is the lesser of two evils for her, as a no-deal Brexit could devastate the EU’s economy, particularly Germany’s. 800,000 German cars are exported to Britain every year, which equals 14 percent of all vehicles it makes domestically.
Earlier in June, Barnier insisted that he is not asking the UK to follow EU rules after it has completely left the bloc, and that his position was ‘misunderstood.’ Despite this, he did accuse the British Government of attempting to ‘cherry-pick’ staying in parts of the EU’s single market that it has benefited from the most. Either way, it would be wise for Frost’s team to take advantage of the ‘clever compromises’ Barnier has promised, but only if they benefit the UK.
Is a Compromise on Fishing Finally Emerging?
Fishing was once the biggest stumbling block that delayed both Britain and the EU from making progress in the Brexit negotiations, but it appears as if Brussels is doubling down on its fishing stance. Leading Brussels insiders told The Daily Express that Barnier will back down on the EU’s red line on fishing at the last moment. This would represent a substantial blow for French President Emmanuel Macron, who wants both parties to agree to a post-Brexit fishing arrangement that mirrors the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
RTE London Correspondent Seán Whelan also told the newspaper that now is not the time for Brussels to shift its position on fishing. This is because they are focused on debating European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s post-coronavirus stimulus before they concentrate on Brexit again. This means that the EU may compromise on fishing in September or October before the deadline for an agreement ends. But such an outcome may face hostility in the European Parliament, with French MEP François-Xavier Bellamy stressing that it is vital to France’s fishing industry for French fishermen to continue to access British waters.
Therefore, the tide seems to be turning in Britain’s favor for both sides to reach a post-Brexit trade pact, but such an outcome can only be achieved if the UK and the EU continue to show flexibility during the final months of the transition period.