Post-Brexit negotiators have just stepped into a very crucial week as European authorities fear Michel Barnier might be tempted to approve an agreement with the UK that could spark fury among the bloc’s member states just because time is running out.
Mr Barnier arrived in London last weekend to continue talks with his UK counterpart knowing that the transition period is fast coming to an end and talks on fishery and state aid still stall with French president Emmanuel Macron being very stubborn over EU maintaining its usual access to UK fishing waters… fearing French fishing industry will be badly affected.
There are fears now that a late deal risks not having enough time to be ratified by both the UK and EU Parliaments before the transition period deadline on December 31, which has, however, caused European Commission to start pressuring Mr Barnier to agree to a trade deal with Britain.
Although there’re hopes that the pressure could lead to a deal before Friday, there is no proof to show assuredly a deal will be reached this week – since both sides have always known that the deadline of Dec. 31 is fast approaching and have made no progress on the key issues of access to the UK waters and governance.
What’s sure is that EU fears what lies ahead with BBC Europe Editor Katya Adler tweeting that EU diplomats told her they are “nervous” Mr Barnier might be tempted to agree to a deal with the UK, “for the sake of his legacy” – but one that would enrage national governments throughout the bloc.
The fear seems to stem from the fact that a rushed deal by Mr Barnier would offer the UK “too much of a competitive advantage over EU businesses in their own single market”
Ms Adler tweeted, “Sense amongst a number of member states is quite the opposite to what’s been suggested in the article. EU diplomats have told me they’re nervous Barnier might be tempted – for the sake of his legacy – to agree to a deal with the UK that national governments eg France/NL object to.
“Because find too ‘lenient’, offering the UK too much of a competitive advantage over EU businesses in their own single market. Broadly Barnier still enjoys widespread EU support but there’s nervousness amongst some countries that bc of time running out they’ll be ‘bounced’ into a deal.
“They wouldn’t otherwise have accepted. Like the UK, EU countries don’t want a deal ‘at any price’. Totally agree with eg @peterfoster the fish focus in UK is red herring. For the EU the MAIN preoccupation is ‘fair competition’ ie level playing field. Let’s see what this week brings.”
The European effort to reach a deal has also been demonstrated by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen who has been said to be “quite helpful” and is “keen to unblock things”, according to a report by The Times, after she sent Stephanie Riso, one of her most senior officials, to assist Mr Barnier in the negotiations.
Jean-Yves Le Drian France Foreign Minister had accused the UK of dragging its feet in the last-ditch of post-Brexit trade deal negotiations, assuring that France will not submit to Britain’s fishing demand.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, on Sunday, hinted that the UK and EU are heading into a “very significant week” as talks over a trade deal enter their final days with several differences yet to be settled.
Mr Raab told the BBC: “This is a very significant week, the last real major week, subject to any further postponement, we’re down to really two basic issues.
Mr Raab also told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that “fishing rights remain an outstanding major bone of contention with the EU but there is a deal that can still be agreed. I do think we’re in a reasonable position – there’s a deal to be done.
“If you look really at what the outstanding issues are, of course the level playing field, but it feels like there is progress towards greater respect for what the UK position was. On fishing, there’s a point of principle, as we leave the EU we’re going to be an independent… coastal state and we’ve got to be able to control our waters.”
The Foreign Secretary also said the UK acknowledges the impact on other countries but warned, “I think the answer is ‘can the EU accept that point of principle which comes with us leaving the political club?”.
Downing Street has stated clearly its unreadiness to allow the EU the usual access to British fishing waters even in the face of a no-deal Brexit.