EU-UK trade talks slog on past another Brexit deadline

Boris Johnson via solowise

BRUSSELS (AP) — Problems increased Monday for the attempt to secure a trade deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom before a Brexit transition period ends on New Year’s Day, with the EU legislature insisting the drawn-out negotiations left lawmakers without enough time to approve a deal.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, meanwhile, displayed insouciance over whether an agreement is reached or not, saying Britain would “prosper mightily” even if the talks collapsed overnight. “Not that we don’t want a deal,” Johnson hastened to add during an afternoon news conference.

British and EU negotiators were still deadlocked over fishing rights with only 10 days to go before a chaotic, costly economic break between both sides is to become official. Barring a late breakthrough, it would impose tariffs on trade between the sides, on top of the customs and other administrative red tape imposed by Britain’s decision to leave the 27-nation bloc.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs are at stake throughout the economies of both sides if no deal is found, but Britain is still insisting its sovereignty trumps concessions granting EU vessels rights in U.K. waters and the EU is refusing to open its lucrative single market to the U.K. unless it commits to play by EU rules.

“It’s vital that everybody understands that the U.K. has got to be able to control its own laws completely, and also that we are going to be able to control our own fisheries,” Johnson said. EU legislators were mulling their next moves now that that both sides had ignored a Sunday deadline the European Parliament had set for agreement terms to be worked out in order to have enough time to assess them before Jan. 1.

“Under a normal procedure, this is no longer possible,” the EU parliament’s chief Brexit official, German lawmaker David McAllister, told The Associated Press. “We showed our utmost flexibility, but the Sunday evening was the last possible date.”

Now, the EU will have to show legal creativity to stave off a no-deal cliff edge. “There are other options which now have to be looked at, including, on the one hand, the possibility of extending the (Brexit) transition period,” McAllister said. “But this would require a political will on both sides. Or, the other option is provisional application.”

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Meanwhile, the tiny fisheries sector continued to befuddle the negotiators, while most of the other issues that had long divided both sides now seemed within reach of agreement. And both sides remained as entrenched as they have been over the past months.

“We want an accord… but not just any accord,” French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said. France is leading the EU offensive to keep as many EU vessels in U.K. waters for as long as possible. The stalemate has left the overall talks inconclusive, with businesses on both sides clamoring for a deal that would save tens of billions in costs. One official from an EU coastal nation said the EU was refusing to yield more than a quarter of the fishing quotas the bloc stands to lose now that Britain is regaining full control of its waters due to Brexit. Britain is also steadfast that a three-year transition period would be long enough for EU fishermen to adapt to the new rules, while the EU wants at least six years.

A failure to reach a post-Brexit deal would lead to more chaos on Britain’s borders with the EU at the start of 2021, when new tariffs would add to other impediments to trade enacted by both sides. The talks have bogged down on two main issues over the past days — the EU’s access to U.K. fishing waters and assurances of fair competition between businesses.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan called on Johnson to extend the transition period, something the prime minister has refused to do. Before Britain left the EU’s political institutions on Jan. 31 this year, Johnson forced through a tight timeframe which ends on Jan. 1, 2021` over the objections of the EU, which always claimed 11 months offered too little time to negotiate a fully fledged trade deal.

A trade deal would ensure there are no tariffs and quotas on trade in goods between the two sides, but there would still be technical costs, partly associated with customs checks and non-tariff barriers on services.

While both sides would suffer economically from a failure to secure a trade deal, most economists think the British economy would take a greater hit, at least in the near-term, as it is relatively more reliant on trade with the EU than vice versa.

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