Senior MEP ‘pessimistic’ about progress in latest Brexit talks

Bernd Lange, a member of Parliament’s UK Coordination Group, told this website that he hopes the continuing talks, being held for the first time in London, will “unlock the UK’s negotiating position.”
Photo credit: istock

By Martin Banks

09 Jul 2020

The talks restarted with the latest round on Monday and are being held in London for the first time.

The UK is due to leave the EU on 31 December, when the current transitional period ends, but little progress has yet been made on issues such as fisheries and the so-called trade level playing field.

Parliament must sign off on any deal and, on Wednesday, German chancellor Angela Merkel, in a speech to MEPs, warned the EU to prepare for a “no-deal scenario.” 

Lange, a German member who chairs Parliament’s International Trade Committee, said, “The last round of talks were very disappointing and the main task this week is to unlock the UK’s negotiating stance, which is currently blocking progress.”

“I cannot, to be honest, understand the UK’s position. Does it want a deal or not? The EU is not faultless and it could show more flexibility at times maybe, but the UK refuses to negotiate seriously. In fact, on some issues it refuses to negotiate at all” Bernd Lange MEP

He said this, specifically, relates to the UK’s refusal to accept any rulings of the ECJ along with its position on the thorny issue of fisheries.

The UK, he said, also refuses to align itself with any future EU legislation.

Lange, a Socialist deputy, said, “It is not possible for the EU to accept the position it has adopted on these issues so we have to find a middle way if we can. Some of the differences are fundamental but if this cannot be done there is no chance of progress.”

He added, “I cannot, to be honest, understand the UK’s position. Does it want a deal or not? The EU is not faultless and it could show more flexibility at times maybe, but the UK refuses to negotiate seriously. In fact, on some issues it refuses to negotiate at all.”

Lange concluded, “I am afraid there seems to be no tiger in the tank,” in reference to Boris Johnson’s much-publicised comment that he wants to see a “tiger in the tank” in the talks, which, given the current impasse, will now stretch over the summer.

Further comment came from the UK Coordination Group Chairman, David McAllister, who said, “Both sides have agreed to intensify the negotiations this month. Tangible progress is needed to solve the serious divergences still remaining.”

On Thursday, a UK government source told The Parliament Magazine, “The team is in London at the moment. On Wednesday, they covered goods, services, fisheries, governance and law enforcement. The Prime Minister also spoke with Merkel this week. They covered a range of issues – including the global Coronavirus response, foreign policy issues and our future relationship with the EU.”

Michel Barnier and David Frost, the two sides’ main negotiators, also had a fish dinner together earlier this week where informal talks continued.

In a speech to MEPs on Wednesday, Angela Merkel said that the UK would “remain a key partner” adding, “Progress in the Brexit talks has been slim, to put it diplomatically, and we have agreed with the UK to accelerate the talks with the aim being to reach an agreement by October and ratification by 31 December. We will continue to push for a good solution but at the same time we must also prepare for a no-deal scenario.”

“Both sides have agreed to intensify the negotiations this month. Tangible progress is needed to solve the serious divergences still remaining” David McAllister MEP

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson said the UK will not make a trade deal with the EU if the latter is not willing to compromise. He underlined “the UK’s commitment to working hard to find an early agreement out of the intensified talks process,” a UK government source said.

“He also noted that the UK equally would be ready to leave the transition period on Australia terms if an agreement could not in the end be reached.”

By Australia terms, the UK means leaving without a trade deal. Merkel warned last Wednesday, on Germany’s first day of the EU presidency, that the EU and Germany should prepare for the possibility of a hard Brexit.

The UK is currently in a transition period as, while it left the EU at the end of January, the country remains in the EU customs union and single market until 31 December 2020.

Negotiations on a trade agreement after the transition period have been difficult, partly because of differing opinions concerning fishing rights and the influence of European courts on British legislation.

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