Boris Johnson remains the tough negotiator. Last week he declared the Brexit negotiations for good, now the turnaround has followed. Insight or tactics?
“Political theater” was what CSU MEP Manfred Weber called Boris Johnson’s announcement to break off talks on the Brexit trade package. As a theater, you actually have to classify a lot of what is currently going on between the EU and London. With his strategy of maximum demands on the EU, the British Prime Minister presents himself as a strong man – but he must be careful that his threats do not come to nothing. But the EU will also have to compromise.
Late last week Johnson declared negotiations with the EU overif they don’t fundamentally reconsider their position. A spokesman for Johnson was even more clear: “The trade talks are over. The EU has effectively ended them.” Should Brussels not fundamentally move, the team led by chief negotiator Michel Barnier will not have to come to London.
So much for the theater. In reality, London and Brussels naturally continued to negotiate, albeit not at the highest level initially – they did before Johnson officially announced on Wednesday that he would return to the negotiating table. There is no alternative to a trade deal for either side – regardless of whether it turns out this year or later.
Australia and Canada are not role models
Johnson repeatedly speaks of a trade agreement with the EU along the lines of Canada or Australia. The former is completely unrealistic at the moment, the latter just a paraphrase for a no-deal Brexit. The CETA agreement with Canada is very complex, it took almost six years to negotiate and is based on completely different political, economic and geographic circumstances than an agreement with Great Britain. And Johnson doesn’t really want a Canada agreement at all, because there is no tax-free movement of goods in it, which Johnson is absolutely committed to negotiating with the EU.
The EU’s agreements with Australia are also not a suitable model for future relations between Europe and Great Britain. There is no free trade agreement between the EU and Australia. Both parties have only concluded framework agreements for trade, here too customs duties are due. So when Johnson speaks of a “contract based on the Australian model,” it is just a paraphrase of the situation after a no-deal Brexit, in which both sides largely trade goods according to World Trade Organization (WTO) guidelines.
What closes a deal
There are currently three bottlenecks: On the one hand, there is access for EU fishermen to British waters – for European coastal states such as France, this is as emotional as it is for Britain, which finally wants to determine its rich fishing grounds on its own. The second central point is the so-called “level playing field”: in exchange for tax-free access to the internal market, the EU wants the same environmental, social and aid standards to protect against dumping. However, Great Britain no longer wants to let the Union convict itself and, after leaving the EU, insists on its state sovereignty. This also applies to point three, the so-called “governance”: the EU demands a reliable mediation tool in case a party deviates from the treaty. So far she has been biting granite in London. However, Johnson has agreed to give up his demand for many individual contracts and negotiate one major contract – as requested by the EU.
When it comes to fishing rights, Britain only seems to have a trump card. The background to this is a dispute over catch quotas for more than 100 species and whether these quotas should be negotiated annually or for a longer period of time. Without an agreement with the UK, EU fishermen would no longer have access to British waters. But: Great Britain currently exports about 60 percent of the fish caught in British waters to the EU. If tariffs are due on the catches, this market could also suffer considerably or even collapse.
How could it continue?
If the EU and Britain can work together again with confidence, there are about three weeks left to negotiate a trade deal. That is tight, but feasible, especially since both parties want to negotiate around the clock and also on weekends. Barnier made it clear in a speech in the European Parliament on Wednesday: “I think an agreement is within reach if we are willing from both sides to work constructively and in a spirit of compromise. Our door will remain open until the last day, until the last day. Day on which it still works. “
A sign from a pro-Brexit protester in London with the text “No Deal Let’s Go WTO”: Should there actually be Brexit without a trade deal, reciprocal tariffs would also be payable under WTO rules. (Source: Kirsty Wigglesworth / dpa)
If both sides insist on their maximum demands, there will actually be a Brexit without clarifying future relations between the EU and Britain. Then the rules of the WTO come into effect, but they mean high rates for both parties.
The EU should also explore an emergency option in the event of a hard Brexit. Thus, the commercial contract does not necessarily have to be signed and sealed by the end of the year – if necessary, after a short, unregulated phase, a contract would be delayed in early January. “It is now debated that in the event that no deal is reached by November 10, one can accept a few weeks of chaos at the beginning of the year and continue negotiations,” said a senior EU member familiar with the discussions. Diplomat.
Less theater, more realism
However, the British side was informed that they would not get involved. After a hard Brexit, the WTO rules should be introduced first. British diplomatic circles said it was virtually impossible for Johnson to negotiate a different solution at the same time as the EU at this stage.
There are therefore three decisive and exciting weeks ahead, in which it will certainly be decided how the EU and Great Britain will interact from 2021. For this time, one can only wish: less theater, more realism – on both sides.