Sunday is crunch day as EU and UK set another Brexit deadline

A dinner meeting between Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson in Brussels on Wednesday evening failed to yield a breakthrough in the deadlocked talks.
European Commission Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

10 Dec 2020

After the lengthy dinner meeting the EU called the talks “lively and interesting” while the UK said they had been “frank.”

Major disagreements remain on fishing rights, business competition rules and how a deal will be policed.

In a statement late on Monday evening, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, “We understand each other’s positions. They remain far apart.”

“The teams should immediately reconvene to try to resolve these issues. We will come to a decision by the end of the weekend,” she added.

UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said it was “unlikely” that the negotiations would be extended beyond Sunday.

In a statement, the UK side said there had been “a frank discussion about the significant obstacles which remain in the negotiations.”

“Very large gaps remain between the two sides and it is still unclear whether these can be bridged.”

“I don’t believe Boris Johnson knows what he wants but he and the UK can no longer postpone a decision. If Boris Johnson thinks it will be useful for him to have a deal he will get a deal, but if he thinks it will personally benefit him not to have a deal he will do that” Philippe Lamberts, Greens/EFA co-leader

In another development on Thursday, the Commission has published contingency, or emergency, plans for a No Deal Brexit. The plans include allowing aviation safety certificates to continue to apply to avoid the grounding of aircraft.

Presenting the contingency measures, von der Leyen said, “Negotiations are still ongoing but the end of the transition is near. There is no guarantee that if and when an agreement is found it can enter into force on time.”

“We have to be prepared including for not having a deal in place on 1 January. Today we present contingency measures.”

Meanwhile, Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts has warned the UK that the EU “will not give up easily” in the final stage of the Brexit talks.

Lamberts, co-leader of the Greens group and a member of Parliament’s UK Coordination Group, said, “I don’t believe Boris Johnson knows what he wants but he and the UK can no longer postpone a decision. If Boris Johnson thinks it will be useful for him to have a deal he will get a deal, but if he thinks it will personally benefit him not to have a deal he will do that.”

“Whatever decision he takes he will inevitably be hated by part of the UK population. But the EU will not give up easily. I have trust in the EU standing up for its interests and that this will not be jeopardised.”

He added, “I respect the UK’s right to its sovereignty but one thing is for sure: we have now got to the endgame.”

“We understand each other’s positions. They remain far apart. The teams should immediately reconvene to try to resolve these issues. We will come to a decision by the end of the weekend” Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President

On the contingency plans in the event of no deal being done by the end of the transition period on 31 December, a Commission spokesman that that while the EU “will continue to do its utmost to reach a mutually beneficial agreement with the UK, there is now significant uncertainty whether a deal will be in place on 1 January 2021.”

It says it has therefore “put forward a set of targeted contingency measures ensuring basic reciprocal air and road connectivity between the EU and the UK, as well as allowing for the possibility of reciprocal fishing access by EU and UK vessels to each other’s waters.”

Council President Charles Michel is expected to update EU leaders on Brexit at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.

Elsewhere, the body representing Europe’s business community has written to the Commission, warning of the need to “be prepared for any possible outcome.”

The letter from  Markus J. Beyrer, President of BusinessEurope, and Pierre Gattaz, its Director General, reads, “We are only few weeks from the end of the transition period and we don’t know yet if we will have an agreement that will govern the future EU-UK relations.”

“For the business community an agreement is essential, not only to mitigate the negative impact of the UK leaving the single market and the customs union but also as a solid platform to build our future cooperation. We are confident that an agreement is still possible and that everything must be done to achieve it in time.”

“In this difficult context, companies are doing the utmost to prepare for all possible scenarios. Due to the significant changes that will occur at the end of the year, regardless of the outcome of the ongoing negotiations, and the lack of certainty on our future relationship, we must prepare for potential disruptions.”

“We believe that an agreement between the EU and the UK is within reach. In the meantime, we need to be prepared for any possible outcome.”

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