‘Clock is ticking’ on chances of UK and EU reaching trade deal, says chair of UK Coordination Group

David McAllister was speaking as talks between the two sides resumed in Brussels on Tuesday.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

30 Sep 2020

Many are pessimistic about a positive outcome of the Brexit talks, with negotiations still deadlocked over a raft of issues ranging from fisheries and state aid to the level playing field and the Irish border issue.

The UK is set to leave the current transition period on December 31. The UK has refused to extend the transition.

This website canvassed the views of senior MEPs on the prospect of this week’s talks - the ninth to be held stretching over the summer - yielding a result.

There are no plans for a tenth round of talks and the EU has set an October deadline for current issues to be resolved. Brexit is also likely to be discussed at this week’s EU summit in Brussels.

On Wednesday, McAllister, a German deputy, told this website, “Due to its constitutional role in the conclusion of international agreements, the European Parliament needs more time than the House of Commons to scrutinise the agreement before it delivers its consent. For us the 31 October is an absolute deadline to conclude the negotiations.”

“We call on the UK to work with the EU constructively and find compromises that are in the interests of our citizens and companies on both sides. Trust and credibility are key at this point of negotiations.”

“The European Parliament needs more time than the House of Commons to scrutinise the agreement before it delivers its consent. For us the 31 October is an absolute deadline to conclude the negotiations” David McAllister, UK Coordination Group Chair

The EPP member added, “As we have repeatedly stated, the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement is a litmus test for UK’s credibility. It is a piece of international law and cannot be changed, disregarded or incorrectly applied.”

“We expect the UK government to uphold the rule of law and demand nothing less than the full implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, which is essential to protect the Good Friday Agreement as well as peace and stability on the island or Ireland.”

With this round of talks due to continue until 2 October, French MEP Nathalie Loiseau, also a member of the UK Coordination Group, agrees that “time is short”, telling this site, “First, we remain very concerned by the Internal Market Bill, which goes against the UK’s commitments included in the Withdrawal Agreement. If the draft bill isn’t withdrawn the European Union should take action.”

“Second, new talks are taking place this week. We hope that they will be more fruitful than the previous ones and that the UK will move significantly on a number of key issues. If there are good reasons to continue after this week, there is no point in stopping the negotiation process.”

But she warned, “Time is very short: the European Parliament will need several weeks to analyse a possible agreement before voting on its ratification. Therefore an agreement should be signed no later than October 31.”

Luxembourg MEP Christophe Hansen MEP, also an UK Coordination Group member, said he expects Boris Johnson to withdraw the international law which “breaches the provisions of the internal market bill.”

“New talks are taking place this week. We hope that they will be more fruitful than the previous ones and that the UK will move significantly on a number of key issues. If there are good reasons to continue after this week, there is no point in stopping the negotiation process” Nathalie Loiseau MEP

Greens MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, a substitute member of the UK Coordination Group, told this website, “As we head into the final week of scheduled negotiations between the EU and the UK, the protection of fundamental rights on both sides of the Channel needs to be prioritised.”

“Mutual trust is a crucial element of any successful negotiation, and action on the side of the UK government in the last few weeks has undermined this. We are committed to finding a way forward and avoiding a No Deal scenario, but we also need assurances that the UK government is acting in good faith.”

She continued, “Citizens’ rights, digital privacy, and the Good Friday Agreement are not up for negotiation, and any action by the UK government which puts these at risk will be taken very seriously. Brexit should not compromise the fundamental rights of EU citizens.”

Further comment came from Irish MEPs, including Barry Andrews, who told The Parliament Magazine, “This is the last scheduled round of talks alongside a meeting of the Joint Committee where the question of the Internal Market Bill will be discussed. If there is movement on public positions, there will be a 'tunnel' process to complete the delicate compromises required.”

But he warned, “I don't think No Deal is inevitable, but if the EU Council receives a negative read out on Thursday or Friday, then it’s over.”

Fellow Irish deputy, EPP member Deidre Clune added, “Significant gaps remain on key issues, in particular on the level playing field, governance and fisheries. These are fundamental issues and they must be addressed in order to secure an agreement.”

“Mutual trust is a crucial element of any successful negotiation, and action on the side of the UK government in the last few weeks has undermined this” Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield MEP

“As long as the negotiations are continuing I think we should remain optimistic that there will be some form of a deal. However, the talks this week are taking place against the background of the Internal Market Bill going through the House of Commons and the EU side has made it clear that any unilateral departure from the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement is not acceptable.”

Meanwhile, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, who is in talks with his EU counterpart Michel Barnier, said, “As we enter the final stages of negotiations we are all focusing on what it might take to get a trade agreement in place.”

“An agreement is still very much possible, but equally very far from certain. The last two weeks of informal talks have been relatively positive, but there remains much to be done, and time is short.”

Frost added, “We have been saying from the beginning of this process that we simply want a standard free trade agreement like Canada’s. Sadly, the EU’s position has not been so straightforward and we continue to be asked to accept provisions which do not reflect the reality of the change which our exit from the EU brings.”

“If the gaps in these areas are to be bridged, the EU still needs to scale back more of its unrealistic ambitions and work on more realistic policy positions. I hope this will be possible this coming week, and I and my team are ready to work as hard as necessary to move things forward.”

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