Brexit Steering Group member casts ‘serious doubt’ on Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit free trade deal
In an exclusive interview with this website, senior Polish MEP Danuta Hubner said that a No Deal scenario in 11 months was a real possibility “unless we have 10 to 15 negotiating ‘tables’ agreed.”
Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual
Hubner’s comments come with the UK set to leave the EU on 31 January, after which point the two sides will begin talks on their future economic relationship.
After its much-vaunted exit, the UK will enter into an 11-month transition period in which it will largely follow EU rules but will not have any representation in the bloc's institutions.
This period will come to an end on 31 December 2020.
On Thursday, UK MPs gave their final backing to the bill that will implement the UK government's Brexit deal.
The House of Commons voted 330 to 231 in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and it will now pass to the House of Lords for further scrutiny next week. If peers choose to amend it will it come back before MPs.
The bill covers “divorce” payments to the EU, citizens’ rights, customs arrangements for Northern Ireland and the planned 11-month transition period.
But with trade talks between the UK and EU set to start, EPP deputy Hubner, a long-standing member of the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group (BSG), was scathing of Johnson’s proposals.
“One should also bear in mind that even the most limited trade deal would have to pass the consent procedure in the European Parliament before the end of the transition” Danuta Hubner MEP
She told this website, “We have heard from Boris Johnson many times that, regarding the future relationship with the EU, he would aim for a fast-track trade deal, meaning that this would be concluded by the end of the transition which is end of 2020.”
“There is, however, silence [from the UK side] about the remaining parts of the framework for this future relationship, as was agreed in the political declaration.”
“Most of those agreements, other than a bare-bones FTA, would require national ratifications. That means that in areas not covered by the WTO or other international agreements, or where the EU law does not have third-country provisions, there might be a No Deal when the transition period comes to an end.”
Hubner, a former European Commissioner, told The Parliament Magazine, that a No Deal scenario in 11 months was a real possibility “unless we have 10 to 15 negotiating ‘tables’ agreed.”
“This is something which cannot be excluded.”
She said, “One should also bear in mind that even the most limited trade deal would have to pass the consent procedure in the European Parliament before the end of the transition.”
“We have also heard that the plan is to have the UK diverge from EU rules. Of course, this is possible, but then why call it an ambitious free trade agreement?”
“We have also heard that the plan is to have the UK diverge from EU rules. Of course, this is possible, but then why call it an ambitious free trade agreement? The more Britain diverges, the less ambitious the deal will be” Danuta Hubner MEP
“The more Britain diverges, the less ambitious the deal will be, because the obligation of sticking to a level playing field approach regarding environmental issues, the labour market, consumer protection, state aid and competition is non-negotiable.”
“So yes, the UK has the right as any third country to diverge but this has its consequences in terms of access to the internal market, which today is the market for more than 40 percent of British exports.
“And a lot of those trade flows happen to take place within the integrated supply chains.”
She went on, “I do not know when it was recently when the UK Prime Minister spoke with British manufacturers and what their views were with regard to their ambitions on the future relationship.”
“The fact that the only legal basis for an extension of the transition period is a single decision by the Joint Committee taken before July 1 and that this is going to be banned by the Withdrawal Bill implies that the time factor will play a role.”
“Of course, the Withdrawal Bill can be amended,” she noted.
Also speaking to this website, senior UK MEP Richard Corbett gave his reaction to a speech this week by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who said that it is in the UK and EU’s “mutual interest” to build a new partnership.
“Britain has to make some difficult choices in these negotiations: either to distance itself from the single market and customs union, at great cost to the economy and jobs in Britain, or else to stay aligned with the single market and customs union” Richard Corbett MEP
Speaking at the LSE in London on Wednesday, the new Commission chief said she hopes this is “one that will be enabling us to defend and strengthen our interests, both from an economic and a security point of view.”
Corbett, a highly-respected Labour MEP, said, “Britain has to make some difficult choices in these negotiations: either to distance itself from the single market and customs union, at great cost to the economy and jobs in Britain, or else to stay aligned with the single market and customs union, but then have to follow all the rules without having a say on them anymore, as a non-member.”
The veteran deputy, an ardent Remainer, warned, “Neither is good for Britain.”
Further comment came from former Liberal MEP Andrew Duff, who said the EU is right not to expect an extension of the transition period.
Duff said the basic free trade and fisheries agreement can be done in 2020 and expects the British position to become “less ideological and more pragmatic” as the negotiations unroll.
Duff points to the “heavy workload” facing the UK as it puts in place the country’s new legislation and regulatory framework and emphasises the “importance and opportunities arising from parliamentary scrutiny.”
He told this site he hopes that the British will contribute to the EU’s reflections on the “failure of British membership, in particular on new forms of differentiated integration suitable for the wider Europe.”
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