EU and UK urged not to ‘indulge in a blame game’ over deadlocked Brexit talks

A senior member of Parliament’s UK Coordination Group told this website the EU should still hold out for a “comprehensive” trade agreement with Britain and not the “piecemeal approach the UK wants.”
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

16 Jun 2020

EPP deputy Christophe Hansen is, alongside Kati Piri, co-rapporteur of a report on Brexit that will be debated in plenary on Wednesday and voted on by MEPs the following day. Brexit is also on the agenda of Friday's EU summit.

Speaking to The Parliament Magazine ahead of the vote and summit, Hansen also suggested that a “new method” should be found for the remaining rounds of negotiations between the two sides.

He says the current methodology has so far failed to bring about any success in breaking the deadlock on thorny issues like fisheries.


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Another key problematic area is the so-called “level playing field” on trade, which Hansen says “is not some ideological concept” but, rather, a “pre-requisite” for any eventual deal.

“I think we need to be explicit about what ‘level playing field’ actually means because there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about it at the moment,” he said.

“The discussions so far have not been very constructive and everyone knows that. But that could be because there have not really been what I would call real talks. All we have had are the two sides camping on their original positions”

The EU was seeking, in the talks, “similar standards” from the UK in areas such as environmental protection, financial affairs and labour rights.

“But similar does not mean identical. It just means having a similar level of ambition.”

He continued, “The discussions so far have not been very constructive and everyone knows that. But that could be because there have not really been what I would call real talks. All we have had are the two sides camping on their original positions.”

Monday’s high-level conference between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen was, he said, a chance to “take stock” of the talks so far but he admitted, “It is clear that, so far, there has been no significant progress.”

The video conference agreed that “new momentum” needs to be injected into the discussions if a deal is to be agreed.

But Hansen questioned if the current way the talks are conducted was “efficient.”

“It seems there are 11 or 12 parallel talks going on at the same time so, given the lack of progress, you have to ask if this is the right way to do things. I think we should consider a new modus of negotiating so that there are not 11 or 12 ‘blocks’ of talks.”

Hansen says the Parliament has to be at the centre of the talks “because it must give the green light to any deal.”

“We do not want to be asked to merely sign a blank cheque.”

“It seems there are 11 or 12 parallel talks going on at the same time so, given the lack of progress, you have to ask if this is the right way to do things. I think we should consider a new modus of negotiating”

He also says the details of any deal have to be agreed by the end of October so that there is time for the agreement to pass through the parliamentary legislative process.

“It is clear, therefore, that there is still a lot of work to do.”

He also believes EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier is the “right man in the right place” and adds, “Remember, it takes two to tango - you cannot do this without the other side.”

Calling for “constructive” discussions in the remaining rounds of talks over the summer, he wants both sides to “find common ground.”

But he warns, “Let’s be clear: our economies will suffer and there will be disruption, not least because of the Coronavirus pandemic, with or without a deal.”

He also believes it would have been “common sense and wise” for the talks to be extended beyond 31 December, something the UK has now finally ruled out.

Hansen, one of 12 MEPs on the UK Coordination Group (UKCG), said, “Now is not the time for blame games. The UK does not want an extension so we must now deal with the timeframe we have.”

In the draft resolution going to plenary, MEPs “regret that no real progress has been achieved so far and that the divergences remain substantial.”

They warn against the UK government’s current piecemeal approach and emphasise that a comprehensive agreement is in the interest of both parties. Having the UK cherry-pick certain policies and its access to the single market after Brexit is “unacceptable” for the EU, says the text.

“Now is not the time for blame games. The UK does not want an extension so we must now deal with the timeframe we have”

The draft resolution also reiterates Parliament’s full support for the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in his talks with the UK, based on the political mandate given to him by the EU Member States and Parliament resolutions.

The “faithful” implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, including on citizens’ rights is a precondition to ensure the trust needed to conclude a deal on the future relationship, notes the text.

The text emphasises that Parliament’s consent to any future trade agreement with the UK is conditional on the British government agreeing to a level playing field (common rules and standards) in the area of, among others, environmental protection, labour standards, and state aid, and on the conclusion of an agreement on fisheries.

The UK has so far not engaged in negotiations on the provisions ensuring equal competition, the draft notes.

The draft resolution, involving input from 17 specialised committees and Parliament’s UKCG, was passed last Friday by 85 votes in favour, six against and 17 abstentions.

The six who voted against were Manu Pineda (GUE), Roman Haider, Lars Patrick Berg, Maximilian Krah, Harald Vilimsky (all four ID) and Demetris Papadakis (NI).

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