UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to have dinner with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels this evening to continue discussions regarding a post-Brexit UK-EU trade deal.
Ms von der Leyen has said “I look forward to welcoming” Mr Johnson to Brussels, though the discussions on the menu this evening are expected to be much more than a standard diplomatic formality. The end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December is fast-approaching, with time really running out in the search for a post-Brexit trade agreement to be reached between the UK and EU.
Post-Brexit trade negotiations have been taking place throughout the year, following the UK’s official departure from the European Union on January 31 this year. However, negotiations have repeatedly got stuck on key differences including the level playing field, governance and fisheries.
Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen spoke over the phone on Saturday, and again on Monday after further efforts by negotiators, however, significant differences are still said to remain.
In a joint statement on Monday, Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen said: “We agreed that the conditions for finalizing an agreement are not there due to the remaining significant differences”
The talks between the two leaders this evening, being described by some as a ‘showdown’ and ‘make-or-break’ come just a day before EU leaders arrive in Brussels tomorrow for a pre-Christmas summit.
The talks this evening are to see whether the leaders may still be willing to compromise on some points to get technical talks moving again. If the leaders cannot agree to consider more compromises and budging on some of their positions, talks will likely break down, leading towards a no-deal scenario.
Even if there are compromises still to be had and talks can be kickstarted once again, time left until the end of the transition period is extremely limited. If negotiations can get make significant progress, they will have to do so soon – if a deal is agreed, it would have to be ratified by the UK Parliament and also EU states, something that might be a big ask over the Christmas period.
On Tuesday, the UK Government said it will drop parts of the Internal Market Bill that could have seen the UK break international law. The announcement came after an agreement was reached “in principle” in regards to topics under the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. The EU had launched legal action against the UK over the proposed legislation, so the agreement could improve somewhat the atmosphere surrounding the trade talks.
What could be some of the impacts of a no-deal scenario?
If there is no deal agreed by the end of the year, the UK and EU would have to trade under World Trade Organization rules. This would mean that tariffs would be placed on goods and that goods would be subject to extra regulatory checks at borders. As a result, goods would most likely be more expensive and harder to access, potentially impacting food and other essential supplies.
Much more paperwork and processing will have to be done before lorries reach the UK border and at the border, which, if firms are not prepared, could lead to some trucks queuing for two days through Kent, according to reports. Security and intelligence sharing may also be largely stopped and transport between the UK and EU could become more difficult.
There have though been some people that support the idea of a no-deal, considering it to be a ‘real Brexit’ – though there is significant debate over what type of Brexit the public actually voted for in the 2016 EU Referendum.
Analysis – Is the desire to keep talks going still there?
Earlier this year, Boris Johnson set a deadline of mid-October for a deal being agreed with the EU. In September, Mr Johnson said:
“There needs to be an agreement with our European friends by the time of the European Council on 15 October if it’s going to be in force by the end of the year. So there is no sense in thinking about timelines that go beyond that point. If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on.”
Yet, talks are still continuing.
Mr Johnson has long said that the UK will prosper whether there is a trade deal or not, however, in a year in which the Coronavirus pandemic has already massively affected businesses, many fear that a no-deal scenario on top of this would be too much to handle.
There could be multiple reasons for why talks have continued up to this point, but the dinner this evening could be crucial to what comes next.
There has clearly been a desire from both the UK and EU to keep talks going up to now – soon we’ll find out whether the desire exists to continue searching for a deal and to make the difficult decisions that doing so will likely involve.