Brexit trade talks likely to go down to the wire as EU draws up ‘needs assessment’ in case of a no-deal

No deal, or ‘bare bones’ trade deal, likely outcome, warn former UK policymakers.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

17 Jul 2020

Denis Macshane, a former Europe Minister in the UK, has predicted that, with the UK and EU seemingly still far apart on issues such as fisheries and the trade level playing field, the two sides may have to wait until “the last moment” before any deal is struck.

The former British cabinet minister said, “The only talks that matter consist of the private conversation going on between the left and right sides of Boris Johnson's head.”

“Does he want to risk a major crisis of 50km queues at Dover or Calais, the City of London being shut out of its most profitable markets, threats to data exchange on criminals and all thousand and one relations the UK has taken for granted for half a century as a functioning member of first the EEC now the EU?”

He added, “How intense is the pressure from Tory MPS and elderly grass roots party activists who believe as an article of faith that any links with Europe other than on exclusively English terms are unacceptable.”

“The British Prime Minister looks shattered and at times rambling and confused... he remains a journalist more than a government leader and like all journalists will only focus once a deadline is imminent” Former Europe Minister in the UK, Denis Macshane

“Michel Barnier is sending out all sorts of compromise signals on fisheries and the European Court of Justice not applying to UK domestic law. But so far there has been no equal reciprocity by Johnson.”

“I suspect if a deal does happen it will happen in a rush at the last moment with lots more to be done in the coming years. But no-one knows.”

He said, “The British Prime Minister looks shattered and at times rambling and confused as he has not fully recovered from his Covid19 near-death experience. I doubt if he knows himself. “He remains a journalist more than a government leader and like all journalists will only focus once a deadline is imminent.”

Elsewhere, Roger Liddle, of the UK-based think tank, the Policy Network, says the two sides “are on a collision course for failure.”

Liddle, a British Labour party member of the House of Lords, served as special adviser on European affairs to former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair from 1997-2004.

In a policy paper, he argues, “The negotiations on Britain’s future relationship with the EU are on a collision course for failure. To avoid this will require mutual give and take.”

"Principally, the British government needs to climb down from its self-imagined pedestal of Brexit triumph,” said Liddle who, from 2004 to 2007 worked in Brussels, first as a member of the cabinet of trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson and then as an adviser on the future of social Europe to the then European commission president, José Manuel Barroso.

Liddle argues that the UK “faces huge economic risks in piling on top of the grave Covid-19 emergency with the negative impacts of no deal, or a very bare bones trade deal, which is probably where we are heading.”

He also warns that Britain’s future relationship “with our European friends and allies is “imperilled”.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has been asked to draw up a “needs assessment” in case of a no-deal Brexit at the end of this year, it has emerged.

European Council President Charles Michel said the aim of the evaluation would be to ensure that EU Member States, regions and even specific sectors, such as fisheries and agriculture, don’t suffer “unforeseen consequences”.

The transition period for the UK’s exit from the EU ends on 31 December and, with slow progress in the negotiations between the two sides, hopes of avoiding a no deal are fading.

“The negotiations on Britain’s future relationship with the EU are on a collision course for failure. To avoid this will require mutual give and take” Roger Liddle, of the UK-based think tank, the Policy Network

What are called “specialised sessions” have been taking place in Brussels this week with the next formal round of talks, the fifth, between the EU and the UK due to start again next week (20 July) , this time in London.

Michel, who recently announced plans for a €5bn “Brexit Reserve” to mitigate against the impact of the UK’s exit, says he wants the Commission to formally plan for a no deal.

He said the Commission will therefore be requested to prepare a “needs assessment”, “so that we are able to support those countries, regions and sectors that will be most affected by Brexit.”

Michel said, “Brexit is a very complex challenge and the ongoing talks are not easy although, by October, I hope we will have a clearer vision of where we are.

“Michel Barnier (the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator) is doing an incredible job but Brexit will have consequences in Europe for Member States. The €5bn Brexit reserve fund is a significant commitment but it is necessary.”

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