Senior MEP expresses concern over ‘lack of real progress’ in deadlocked Brexit talks

Parliament Vice-President Mairead McGuinness, strongly tipped to be Ireland’s next EU commissioner, says she is dismayed by the failure to make more headway in the negotiations.
Natalie Hill

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

03 Sep 2020

The next round of Brexit talks will start on Monday (7 September) but a range of issues, including state aid, fisheries, trade and even the status of food and drink protected under the EU’s Geographical Indications policy, remain unresolved despite months of discussions between the two sides.

McGuinness, an Irish deputy who is seen as a leading candidate for the Irish commissioner role after the recent resignation of Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan, told this website she was disappointed by the failure to make more progress “after seven rounds of negotiations so far - even when accounting for the disruption caused by the pandemic.”

Her comments come after the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned the UK this week that if it does not move on the EU’s key issues in the Brexit talks, it runs “the risk of a No Deal.”

The Irish deputy said, “Michel Barnier was pessimistic in his remarks after the seventh round, pointing out the lack of time left to get a deal done.”

“We know that a deal needs to be reached by the end of October so that it can be scrutinised and ratified by the European Parliament. A no-deal Brexit shock on top of the COVID-19 crisis would be tough. And it would be a bad political signal for the future if the EU and the UK fail to reach a deal.”

In an interview with this site, the EPP member said, “That doesn't mean the EU should seek a deal at any cost. The EU should not and will not compromise on the single market and the customs union. A country outside the EU, which does not have the same obligations, cannot have the same level of access as a Member State.”

“As Michel Barnier clearly stated, there needs to be a level playing field so that EU and UK companies can compete fairly: it is a pre-condition for access to the single market given geography and economic interconnectedness. And the UK, under Boris Johnson, signed up to this idea in the Political Declaration.”

“A no-deal Brexit shock on top of the COVID-19 crisis would be tough. And it would be a bad political signal for the future if the EU and the UK fail to reach a deal” Mairead McGuinness MEP

She went on, “On other issues – in particular fisheries – the UK and EU remain far apart. In the short time that remains for negotiations, I hope that the UK will match the ambition it signed up to in the Political Declaration for a zero quota, zero tariff, zero dumping deal.”

Further comment came from her fellow Irish deputy Seán Kelly, who told this website, “I find it deeply disappointing to hear once again, after a round of negotiations, that little progress has been made. In the four years since the referendum in the UK, we have witnessed an array of inconsistencies and political posturing in the UK, as well as seeming indifference to the Anglo-Irish relationship by key figures of the British government, which has made this unfortunate process exhausting both for citizens and businesses, and even governments.”

Kelly added, “The economic impact of the pandemic will be evident for years to come, and the continued uncertainty of the practical details of Brexit make it very difficult businesses and citizens in the UK and the EU, especially those on the island of Ireland, to plan and invest.”

“Simply, we need realistic, good faith, proposals from the UK in line with the agreed Political Declaration to ensure Brexit is done right, not just done at all costs.”

Only a few weeks remain to agree a deal before the EU deadline of late October and the next negotiation round, starting on Monday, will be “crucial,” said an EU official. “If it ends without any progress as well, the window to close a deal will close quickly. Time would simply be running out,” he said.

Separately and speaking at the Institute of International and European Affairs on Wednesday, Barnier said, “We want a close partnership with the UK. Provided the conditions are right this is in everybody’s interest. So far, the UK has not engaged constructively on those conditions. I have said before, I am particularly worried – and disappointed – by the UK's lack of engagement.”

“To ensure that this agreement works on the ground as of 1 January 2021, the UK still needs to complete many practical preparations – time-consuming and resource-intensive preparations.”

“I find it deeply disappointing to hear once again, after a round of negotiations, that little progress has been made. In the four years since the referendum in the UK, we have witnessed an array of inconsistencies and political posturing in the UK, as well as seeming indifference to the Anglo-Irish relationship by key figures of the British government” Seán Kelly MEP

He added, “I will be back in London next week for our eighth negotiating round, as planned. I sincerely hope to be able to tell you a new story after that round – a story of real, tangible progress in all areas.”

The EU has said it needs around two months to ratify a treaty before the end of the transition period on 31 December. MEPs must also sign off on any deal. Both sides now accept they are working to a timetable that would see agreement of a text by the end of September for it to be signed off by leaders at their summit in Brussels on October 15-16.

Officials, however, say there are currently no plans for Brexit to be on the agenda of an extraordinary EU summit recently called for September 24-25.

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