Will they finally manage to pull off a historic compromise on Christmas Eve? European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will meet again this Thursday morning with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson after a final night of discussions on a post-Brexit agreement.
This exchange is scheduled for early morning “if all goes well”, said a European source. It could be followed by a statement to the press.
The outcome on Christmas Eve of these laborious negotiations, which began in March, would allow the two parties to avoid a “no deal” which is as embarrassing on the political level as it is harmful on the economic level. A European source had mentioned Wednesday “great chances” of reaching an agreement. But “the negotiations are not yet over,” warned the same source Thursday morning.
According to a French government source, the British have made “enormous concessions”, in particular on fishing, the ultimate stumbling block in the discussions. “There have been movements on the British side, but the devil is in the details of the texts and we are not there yet,” said a diplomatic source on Wednesday. “We check that all the guarantees are there”. If confirmed, a compromise between the European Commission and the UK will still have to be validated by member states, a process that should take several days.
But in theory, there is enough time left for a possible treaty to enter provisional application on January 1, when the United Kingdom, which officially left the EU on January 31, will have definitively abandoned the single market. The text, of nearly 2,000 pages, would then be validated a posteriori by the European Parliament. Without an agreement, trade between the EU and London would be governed solely by the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), synonymous with customs duties, quotas, as well as administrative formalities liable to lead to huge traffic jams and delivery delays. A dark scenario for the United Kingdom, already battered by a more virulent variant of the coronavirus which isolated it from the rest of the world.
The negotiations have been in the hands of President Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson since Monday, who have exchanged several times in an attempt to overcome the deadlock on fishing. Despite its low economic weight, the sector is of political and social importance for several Member States, including France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland. But the British made it the symbol of their regained sovereignty after the divorce. Negotiations focus on sharing the some 650 million euros of products caught each year by the EU in British waters and the length of the adjustment period for European fishermen.
The UK has more to lose
The other previously problematic subjects – how to settle disputes and protections against unfair competition – have for their part been settled in the last few days. The conclusion of a text in just ten months – four and a half years after the June 2016 referendum on Brexit – would be a feat for London and Brussels, especially for an agreement of this magnitude, since such talks take years. With this agreement, the EU would offer its former member state unprecedented access without customs duties or quotas to its huge market of 450 million consumers.
But this openness will, if necessary, be accompanied by strict conditions: the companies from across the Channel will have to respect a certain number of evolving rules over time in terms of the environment, labor law and taxation to avoid any dumping. . Guarantees should also exist in terms of State aid. A mechanism should allow both parties to quickly activate countermeasures, such as tariffs, in the event of discrepancies on these standards. In the event of a “no deal”, the United Kingdom would lose much more than Europe: the British export 47% of their products to the continent, while the EU only sells 8% of its goods on the other side. of the Channel.