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Brexit: the European view on practical issues of the coming changes

Brexit’s back. The British have now left the European Union, but the two sides are still arguing about their future relationship. We’re running out of time and the news is piling up fast, so we’ll catch you up on what happened this week.

Even in the second week of december, the EU and the UK do not seem to have come closer together. The chances of the parties reaching a trade agreement by the end of the year are now less than ever. In many British gambling offices, since this week you have been getting even less money back on a no deal Brexit than when the power blocks do come to an agreement.

Meanwhile, the senior officials on both sides also estimate the chances of a trade agreement to be low. And the conversations that took place on Wednesday, including at dinner, between Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson did not help confidence in a happy ending. Even the leaders could not break the deadlock during perhaps the last dinner in the negotiating period between the two leaders.

“It seems very, very likely that we have to go for a solution that will be great for the UK,” British Prime Minister Johnson said on Friday about the no deal scenario. “We can do exactly what we want from January.”

Moreover, the European summit in Brussels focused more on corona and climate change than on Brexit. Heads of government like Macron and Merkel are deliberately not directly involved in the negotiations. Johnson would have invited his German and French colleagues to a phone call this week, but both got nothing from them. They leave the Brexit negotiations to the European Commission and a select group of top officials led by Michel Barnier. Even with a no deal in the air, a visit by Merkel or Macron to London seems impossible.

With just over two weeks to go, a compromise on difficult issues such as fisheries, competition rules and the monitoring of an agreement (possibly) seems too far-reaching. If there is no agreement on the table on 31 December, the WTO rules will apply from the New Year. This would mean a radical change in the way the UK and the EU operate. This could mean, for example, the return of toll booths and high import charges.

If, for example, the British want to import Dutch minced meat, they would have to pay a 48% import levy on it under the WTO tariffs. This could lead to more expensive messages, according to the British Retail Trade Organisation on Friday. A German think tank already announced in September that a no deal-Brexit could put 700,000 jobs at risk.

Is there no longer any reason for hope for those in favour of a trade agreement? Negotiators are still holding talks this weekend, and in the course of Sunday there will probably be more clarity on the possible continuation of the negotiations. Meanwhile, the EU has announced a package of targeted emergency measures in the event of a trade agreement not being reached.

The plans will ensure, inter alia, that there are still reciprocal air and road links between the EU and the UK after 31 december. For example, in a no deal, both blocs would have access to each other’s fishing waters for up to a year. This will give Brussels and London the opportunity to reach a (partial)agreement on certain sensitive issues in 2021.

Paolo Sorbello

Paolo Sorbello is a journalist and researcher. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow, studying state-business relations in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. He is also the Business News Editor of the weekly newspaper The Conway Bulletin.

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