Is this something rooted in Barnier’s own personal view, or the EU’s clearly mistaken belief the Political Declaration should be treated as some sort of legally-binding precursor to a trade deal – which it is not? In fact, the document is clearly stated as: “…a framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom”. The UK is well within its rights to break away from this document and ask for a less binding and more simple Free Trade Agreement. After all, the document was largely concocted by a previous Government with a very different agenda under Theresa May and Olly Robbins, along with his counterpart in Brussels, Sabine Weyand.
Since the majority of the Great British Public voted to Leave the European Union on June 23rd 2016 – almost 4 years ago – we have understood negotiations for all of our agreements would be through Michel Barnier, the EU’s Chief Negotiator – an unelected official who wields seemingly endless power. In the Free Trade Agreement negotiations this is the same. Even though the EU internally agreed its negotiating mandate back in February, since then Barnier has operated to the letter of this mandate, with no scope for any flexibility or compromise.
The EU’s old strategy of dragging talks on for years and years, to break down the other side, is not an option.
In these trade negotiations – for which there is a firm deadline of the end of this year – time is of the essence. The EU’s old strategy of dragging talks on for years and years to break down the other side, is not an option. Those sat around the table (or their Zoom screens) with the United Kingdom, need to be able to make decisions quickly and compromise in key areas when necessary. On the UK side all it takes is for the UK’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, David Frost, to talk to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet and if they agree, he can proceed. Instead Barnier and his underlings are tied into tight commitments with 27 entirely separate Member States’ Governments and his bosses in Brussels
Even if Barnier really wants to concede ground (although this is unlikely given his statements at the recent press conference), he must convince Brussels and then all the 27 Member States. This is what we have seen on fishing. Michel Barnier seemed to be saying there was scope for compromise in the days leading up to the last round of negotiations, however, this was shut down by Member States’ politicians who had been nowhere near the negotiation conversations. France and Spain, among others, have demanded Barnier stick to the negotiating mandate he had been given – a document which says the EU will not accept any changes to the current fishing arrangements. Even on Wednesday (17thJune) the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “Noone questions the UK sovereignty over its own waters”. However, MEPs and Ms von der Leyen then proceeded to say the EU still expected long term access to UK waters – similar to the current relationship! This is a ridiculous demand and yet more negotiating bluster, which will rightly never be accepted by the UK Government. We are talking about the right to ‘Take Back Control’ of who can fish in the UK’s own sovereign waters now we have left the EU. It’s as if, by comparison, the French would accept our lorries driving into French vineyards and demanding a right to take a share of their wine and grapes, free of charge – completely unacceptable!
As Barnier has so often loved to reiterate in the past: “There can be no cherry-picking” – so it is quite right we should not allow the EU to do so now on such an important issue for the UK?
It seems Member States – and those involved within Brussels – still haven’t understood the reality of the issues at stake. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has no rhyme or reason to cave in to their demands. He received a thumping majority at the last General Election based on a promise to ‘Get Brexit Done’ no matter what – as a result of the EU Referendum.
Perhaps the only European Leader who seems to have realised what needs to happen is Angela Merkel (Chancellor of Germany), who, according to reports, plans to intervene in the talks in order to get them back on track. Apparently however, she doesn’t intend to take this action until the Autumn. This is a baffling timeline for such an important and time-sensitive issue. The EU itself has said it wants a full legal text by October 31st, 2020, so why if Mrs Merkel plans to intervene and remove Mr Barnier, does she need to wait so long? Surely it would be better for all parties involved if a new approach is taken sooner rather than later (something we in the UK can agree with, having had to suffer through former Prime Minister Theresa May’s failed negotiations for so long)!
Quite frankly, how can we ever expect to succeed in these negotiations when the EU consistently seems set up to encourage failure? Perhaps they simply do not believe Boris Johnson will Leave the trade negotiations with No Deal to trade on World Organisation terms, as this rejection of any form of compromise seems to be a way to try and extort more money out of the UK by extending the Transition Period.
Michel Barnier and the EU need to take a serious look at how they set up these negotiations in the first place. Unlike all their previous trade deals, these are under serious time constraints. If they really want to make progress towards a mutually beneficial Free Trade Agreement, then a radical reorganisation is needed with the ongoing negotiations. Even the new schedule for weekly negotiations between the two sides – agreed at this week’s High-Level Conference between Boris Johnson and the Leaders of the EU – has not changed the reality of the situation, as the EU’s negotiating position remains the same.
However, on the UK side we cannot wait around for the EU to continually reject any form of compromise, or indeed change their mentality towards these trade negotiations which are important for both sides. This Government must deliver on its promises to fully Get Britain Out of the EU – with or without a trade deal. There can be NO extension to the Transition Period and until the EU fully understands this reality, then it seems they will continue to approach these final negotiations with the same attitude they have had since 2015 – when former Prime Minister, David Cameron, tried to renegotiate the UK’s position within the EU – an attitude of disinterest and self-superiority.
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