The deadline for the end of the Brexit transition period is steadily inching closer.
Laid out in the UK-EU Political Declaration is a summit, scheduled to take place in June, where both sides are due to discuss progress made in the final negotiation talks.
The final negotiations are also supposed to include a trade agreement between the UK and the EU as well as a discussion on ‘a potential for an extension to the transition period’. This is a topic that the EU has insisted takes priority instead of focussing on a trade agreement.
Yet for some reason, the European Commission seems unable to grasp it was the UK that voted to leave the EU. It is the UK that must choose what is acceptable to the British public, not the other way around.
News has been scarce on the trade negotiation talks. Since they started in March, there has only been one meeting, in which the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier stated both sides were “far apart” in their negotiation positions.
With other priorities taking centre stage over the past month and the opportunity to meet face-to-face now impossible, progress has been limited, even although the UK and the EU have been using technology to conduct meetings on a huge variety of other important subjects on both sides.
It is time the EU took this issue seriously, instead of avoiding it, in the hope of extending the transition period, and creaming more from the UK despite the fact that we have officially left the EU.
Talks resumed on 15 April between Barnier and his counterpart, David Frost, and aimed to agree a timeframe for further negotiations. Thankfully, there now seems to have been some progress, with both sides now agreeing to three week-long negotiations, one each in April, May and June.
"It is time the EU took this issue seriously, instead of avoiding it, in the hope of extending the transition period, and creaming more from the UK despite the fact that we have officially left the EU"
While this is welcome, agreeing a new schedule for negotiations is the easy part. It is another thing entirely to actually make inroads towards a proper free trade deal.
As COVID-19 continues to undermine the EU’s stability, panic is setting in. We are seeing the EU begin to quake and use various factions to continually demand an extension to the transition period, regardless of any confirmed schedule for talks. They know that they may need the ongoing financial support of the UK in Eurozone bailouts for their future.
A leading pro-integration group in the European Parliament - the European People’s Party, last week suggested that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson should ask for a transition period extension. Meanwhile, German ambassador to the EU Michael Clauss said the timeframe has become too limited to agree a deal in time before 31 December 2020, and that the UK should seek to extend.
This is nothing new. The EU has continually said the timeframe is too limited, but they simply need to get on with it, instead of continually playing for time. Now is not the time to curtail scrutiny of the EU, which seems so desperate to hang on to the UK, along with our reputation and money.
The UK remains confident, and more importantly, is willing to stick to the originally agreed deadline, despite attempts by many within Europe to constantly throw up imaginary barriers to the continuation of talks, such as security risks. This claim coming despite many of the EU’s day-to-day functions already occurring via videoconferencing.
A plethora of MEPs have been parroting rehearsed lines asking for an extension and it is no secret the EU would accept – along with the £9bn plus a year from the UK’s coffers. One in particular, Anna Cavazzini, appeared to suggest Boris Johnson ‘recently’ implied Brexit could take years to complete, as the EU-Canada deal had taken seven years to sort out.
"The EU reeks of desperation; the tables have turned. For once, with the Conservative Party under the fresh and strong premiership of Johnson, the UK is taking the fight to the heart of Brussels"
However, this quote was lifted from when Johnson was Mayor of London over four years ago and it has been manipulated for political gamesmanship by Cavazzini. The reality is the UK is starting from a completely different position than Canada. It holds a far stronger hand in the negotiations, given that we have already had a trading relationship with the EU for 47 years, contrary to Canada’s own limited relationship with the EU.
This is something that the UK Prime Minister and the British Government have repeated multiple times in the last six months – to conveniently deaf EU ears.
The EU reeks of desperation; the tables have turned. For once, with the Conservative Party under the fresh and strong premiership of Johnson, the UK is taking the fight to the heart of Brussels.
This is not the only change. The legal logistics have changed too. Previously, under the pretence of Article 50, which the UK triggered unilaterally, the UK was legally required ask for an extension.
Now, under bilateral international law, the transition period that ends on 31 December 2020 acts as a countdown until we sever all remaining ties to the EU and we are under no obligation to agree terms for our exit (as we have already left), unlike previously. In fact, under Article 132 of the Withdrawal Deal, the UK does not need to be the one forced to request an extension.
It is becoming ever clearer to the public, on both sides of the English Channel, that a deal would be of mutual benefit, if not of greater benefit to the EU than to the UK. The pressure is mounting. If the EU wants to beg for an extension, it is up to them to do so and pay for any costs because any such request is not coming from the UK.
The UK government has been adamantly clear. It does not want or need an extension and it is up to the EU to up their game and negotiate. If the EU genuinely cannot complete these negotiations, and choose to offer a no-strings and cost-free extension for the benefit of agreeing to a fair post-Brexit deal, then so be it.
The EU’s unpreparedness must be questioned and there is certainly no obligation for the UK to accept this extension. We are ready to negotiate over the next three months, even while our Prime Minister is recovering from his stay in intensive care. Johnson has made his position clear; he does not want to agree any extension.
The UK must not be held ransom by the EU, nor be pressured into requesting an extension as a result of the EU’s own inadequacies. There can be no doubt we must Get Britain Out of the EU on 31 December 2020.