Senior MEP warns that ‘big divergencies’ still threaten to torpedo Brexit deal

Nathalie Loiseau has tempered expectations that the UK and EU are about to broker a deal, saying, “We are offering an unprecedented partnership with the UK, but this comes with clarity and commitments, and so far they are missing.”

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

23 Nov 2020

Hopes were raised when European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at the end of last week that “good progress” had been made in the protracted negotiations between the two sides.

But Loiseau, a French Renew Europe deputy, said, “We are struggling to build a strong partnership for our future. This is what we owe to our fellow citizens on both sides.”

She added, “We are partners, we are not meant to be adversaries. I would like to see UK politicians refraining from using rhetoric or a vocabulary as if we were adversaries fighting against each other.”

Loiseau is a member of Parliament’s UK Coordination Group, which is overseeing the talks, and she points out that Parliament must have time to sign off on any deal that is reached in the coming days.

“We will do everything we can to get a good deal. Whether it is possible under this time pressure, honestly I don’t know. I will not tell you we are nearly there because there are still big divergences.”

She said “clarity” was still needed on both sides for the talks to be finalised.

It is believed that the European Parliament is planning to schedule an extra plenary session between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, possibly on 28 December, to give members the chance to give their consent to a possible post-Brexit agreement.

“We will do everything we can to get a good deal. Whether it is possible under this time pressure, honestly I don’t know. I will not tell you we are nearly there because there are still big divergencies” Nathalie Loiseau, Renew Europe

The transition period the UK has been granted ends on December 31.

Uncertainty currently surrounds the exact resumption of talks after the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, was forced to go into self-isolation after a member of the EU’s negotiating team tested positive for Coronavirus.

Last week’s face-to-face Brexit talks in Brussels were subsequently suspended on Thursday.

A Commission spokesman said on Monday, “Talks continued online over the weekend and David Frost and Michel Barnier are in contact each day.”

On Monday, Michel Barnier said in a tweet that the two sides were continuing to work hard for a deal but that there were significant divergencies in the three areas of governance, fisheries and a level playing field.

The Commission spokesman said that Barnier will remain in quarantine in Belgium “for the next two days.”

He also confirmed that there was “no possibility” to extend the transition period beyond December 31, adding that this is a “date set in stone.”

“The UK’s final exit from the EU is not far ahead and yet despite this deadline, the prospect of a trade agreement still seems to be uncertain” ECR Party statement

On preparations for a No Deal, the spokesman told reporters, “we are not in the same position as we were in 2019 because people and businesses have had the chance to prepare for the UK exit. We have worked hard with stakeholders on this.”

Further comment on the continuing Brexit talks came from the ECR Party, which said in a statement, “The UK’s final exit from the EU is not far ahead and yet despite this deadline, the prospect of a trade agreement still seems to be uncertain.”

“The EU has been entrenched in its positions, refusing to give ground to the UK on several of the remaining key areas. With both European and British businesses dependent on the continuous undisrupted flow of trade, the importance of reaching an agreement is more important than ever.”

Meanwhile, Irish media has reported that some 95 percent of the Brexit deal has been completed.

When asked about this at a news conference late on Friday, Ursula von der Leyen insisted that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

She added, “After some difficult weeks with slow progress we have now seen, in the last few days, better progress and improvement on important files.”

She warned though, “The most difficult files remain: governance, fisheries and a level trade playing field, but progress has been made on state aid.”

“After some difficult weeks with slow progress we have now seen, in the last few days, better progress and improvement on important files” Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President

“But we are still some metres from the finishing line and the time pressure on us is high, not least after the suspension of the talks. Before this break, there was a legal text on the table but there is a lot to work on.”

Looking forward to this week and further talks, von der Leyen said, “we will proceed if necessary via a video link but we will go on working tirelessly day and night to reach the 31 December deadline.”

Her comments came as it was announced that the UK and Canada had reached a deal to continue trading under the same terms as the current EU agreement after the Brexit transition period ends.

Also on Friday, the Commission’s Secretary-General Ilze Juhansone reportedly said that “some progress” had been accomplished and there was now an advanced legal text covering “almost all” of the outstanding issues.

On Sunday, the UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the BBC, “I think we’re being entirely reasonable with our requests and have been consistent and transparent through this process about what’s important to us. But we will prosper in any eventuality.”

Meanwhile, a Freedom of Information request made by the UK-based “Get Britain Out” about the state of Brexit preparedness of UK ports for the end of the transition period, says that the UK government’s Port Infrastructure Fund (PIF) – worth over €200 million – has yet to allocate any money despite applications closing last month.

Jayne Adye, director of the Eurosceptic group, said, “The lack of urgency coming from the Government surrounding all forms of Brexit - whether during the negotiations or by providing additional funding to business - is a categoric failure to operate effectively.”

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