EU Chief negotiator calls latest post-Brexit talks with UK ‘disappointing’
“Once again the clock is ticking” said EU Chief negotiator Michel Barnier to his UK counterparts during this week’s post-Brexit negotiations.
After a six-week standstill due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the second round of the EU-UK post-Brexit negotiations launched this week with around forty video conferences being held. It was concluded today with Barnier offering a press statement on the state of play. In light of the recent declarations from the UK Government refusing any extension of the transition period, Barnier recommended to carefully assess the EU-UK joint response regarding the extension by fully considering the “economic situation and the consequences of this decision.”
In his statement, Barnier also showed regret regarding the UK’s refusal “to engage seriously on a number of fundamental issues”. He called upon the British Government to implement, in the most serious, precise and objective way possible, the Political Declaration which after months of debate in the UK Parliament, was adopted in October last year together with the Withdrawal Agreement.
Realism injection: the two very real deadlines and three deliverables
While the Withdrawal Agreement foresees the possibility of an extension of the transition period, the UK Government vehemently stated that no extension will be allowed. But with deadlines fast approaching, there is a need of some realism injection.
On 31st December 2020, the UK has to “economically exit” the EU. The EU highlights the risk that, given the upcoming economic crisis created by COVID-19, it will not be feasible to reach an “intelligent agreement that limits the shock that the UK’s departure from the Single Market and Customs Union will entail in any case.”
Given the extensive amount of work that has to be completed by the end of December, there is little chance that the three deliverables mentioned by Barnier in his latest statement will be fully assessed and implemented:
- Ensuring the proper implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement;
- Preparing for the negative economic consequences that the end of the transition period will entail;
- Negotiating a future partnership between the EU and the UK with a view to limiting those negative consequences.
With the deadline fast approaching, the private sector and any other Brexit-impacted stakeholders need to put additional pressure on the UK Government to ensure that their needs are taken into consideration for any possible scenario; including a prolonged transition period.
UK’s non-participation in the EU COVID-19 scheme – a political decision
Despite the fact that the European Commission confirmed that the UK is eligible to participate in the EU COVID-19 Scheme, which allows the joint procurement of medical equipment to fight the outbreak, the UK Government has been unclear in explaining why it will not participate in the EU Scheme – blaming a “communication problem”.
However, Simon McDonald, a Senior civil servant at the Foreign Office stated that the UK’s failure to participate in the EU’s procurement scheme was a “political decision”, which he then took back in an official statement. As a reaction, Health Secretary Matt Hancock stated during a press conference that he was not aware that a political decision not to participate in the scheme was taken.
Read Politico’s additional details about the story, which is fairly stating that McDonald’s statements brought to life the Brexit debate.
Brussels’ little propaganda machine
With the UK’s official “political” exit from the EU on 31st January 2020, Brits in Brussels are experiencing all the feelings – but what seem a crucial topic a few weeks ago, is now slowly being replaced by other worries. Here’s one testimony for you from the other side of the Channel:
How do you feel now? Has anything changed recently?
“I resigned myself to the fact that we are leaving long ago, and my only concern is that we secure a smooth transition at the end of the year. Other than that, I’m no longer invested in the issue. The longer I spend abroad, the less connected and less invested I am in the UK, and the more Belgium starts to feel like a permanent home.”
“One of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it’s given us a greater sense of perspective. Brexit has disappeared from news agendas almost entirely, and now seems like a passing fancy.”
Do you have any concerns?
“We mustn’t let the COVID-19 response distract us from ensuring an orderly transition at the end of the year. Ironically, the COVID-19 response has highlighted the benefits of a coordinated, EU-wide response to the pandemic. I hope that we will bear that in mind when engaging with the EU after the transition.”
How do you feel about your future?
“I’m in a privileged position, because my job requires me to travel between Belgium and the UK — I get the best of both worlds. As far as I am concerned, though, my future is here. I’ve been in Belgium for four years, and, besides my family, only keep up with a handful of people in the UK. I hope to earn Belgian citizenship soon and buy a house — essentially taking steps to make this move permanent. It’s funny: if you had asked me five years ago whether I thought I’d be living abroad, I’d have said no. But I’m glad I did — it’s one positive benefit of Brexit.”
The Whitehouse team are experts in the potential impact of Brexit, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom but also across the member states of the European Union. More information about our Brexit experience can be found here, or, if you have any questions, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at firstname.lastname@example.org