Senior EU political figures warn UK that ‘time is short’ for Brexit deal

David McAllister, who chairs Parliament’s UK Coordination Group, said the talks have entered a “very crucial phase.”
Brexit countdown

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

06 Oct 2020

McAllister’s comments were echoed by European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, who went further, calling into question the UK’s “good faith” in the ongoing talks.

Tensions between the two sides rose sharply recently when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the draft legislation which would allow his government to override parts of the Withdrawal Agreement.

The Brexit treaty, which was renegotiated by Johnson and approved by UK parliamentarians earlier this year, sets the terms of the country’s exit from the EU. It plans for Northern Ireland to remain part of the bloc's customs union in order to avoid a hard border seen as key to safeguarding peace on the island of Ireland.

Johnson argues that the Internal Market Bill will protect the Good Friday Agreement and ensure that goods continue to flow uninterrupted between Northern Ireland and the UK, but the European Commission has condemned the legislation.

As discussions between the UK and EU continued this week, McAllister, assessing the current state of the talks, told this website on Tuesday, “The negotiations are now entering a very crucial phase. Less than three months are left before the United Kingdom will finally leave the internal market and the customs union. Intensive talks in the next few weeks are now key to make substantial progress on content.”

McAllister, a German EPP deputy, added, “I reiterate the European Parliament’s position that a legal and ready text must be available until 31 October the latest, so that we have enough time for parliamentary scrutiny.”

“At the same time, the full implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement including the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland remains the basis for our future relations.”

“The negotiations are now entering a very crucial phase … Intensive talks in the next few weeks are now key to make substantial progress on content” David McAllister, UK Coordination Group chair

Šefčovič, speaking separately during a debate with MEPs in Parliament on Monday, warned that “time is short to reach a deal” by 15 October - the date of the next EU summit when EU leaders and heads of state had hoped to be able to ratify any deal.

Šefčovič also said that the Internal Market Bill represented a “heavy blow to the UK’s reliability”, adding that “respecting agreements is a matter of law but also trust and good faith.”

He went on to say that the EU “will never change anything” in the Withdrawal Agreement, adding that its “full and timely implementation is simply not debatable.”

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed on Saturday that there are still “significant gaps” in the negotiations, but ordered their negotiators to work intensively in order to try to bridge those gaps.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking after last Friday’s EU summit in Brussels, sought to sound a more upbeat note, saying that “as long as the two sides negotiate I am optimistic.”

She said the fisheries deal reached last week between the UK and Norway showed that the UK was on a “constructive path.”

The transition period will expire at the end of the year but the EU has set an October deadline for any deal so that the European parliament has a chance to debate and vote on any agreement.

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