Where the UK and EU stand going into the penultimate round of trade talks

Tue 8 Sept 2020
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

brexit talks

The penultimate round of negotiations for the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU begins today (8 September) amid reports of a breakdown in trust between the two sides.

On Sunday evening the FT broke the news that Downing Street is considering ‘overriding’ key elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol – agreed to in the Withdrawal Agreement last year – through new legislation for the UK’s internal market post-transition.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, called on the UK to respect previous agreements, saying this “underpins confidence going forwards”, but leaked diplomatic cables reported in the Guardian yesterday suggest the EU is now losing trust in its British negotiating counterparts.

EU concerns

According to the leaked memos, there are four emerging grounds for EU scepticism over the UK’s current approach to the talks:

  1. The bloc suspects the UK is holding back on compromising on state-aid, fisheries and governance – the major stumbling blocks in the talks to date – in the hope of forcing last-minute trade-offs on other areas yet to be discussed
  2. Commission diplomats allege Home Secretary Priti Patel is seeking to hold side-negotiations with the five largest EU nations on internal security, circumventing the main talks
  3. The UK is trying to introduce new concepts to the fisheries debate whereby 80% of common stocks would be designated as “priority stocks” on which British fishermen would have the biggest claim
  4. EU officials believe Downing Street is behind negative headlines in the UK press about the bloc as part of its attempts to lay a blame game on the EU for an eventual no-deal

UK calls for realism

The UK government yesterday sought to downplay the possible impact of the Internal Market Bill on the talks.

Officials at a Downing Street press briefing said the government is“taking limited and reasonable steps to clarify specific elements” of the Northern Ireland Protocol through the legislation, of which details are due to be published tomorrow.

Ahead of the talks, the UK’s chief negotiator, Lord David Frost, today called for “more realism” and recognition of the UK’s standing an “independent sovereign nation”, Sky News reports.

He said this was a “make or break” week for the prospects of a deal and that the two parties can no longer “afford to go over well-trodden ground”.

“We need to see more realism from the EU about our status as an independent country,” he said. "As we have done from the beginning in public and in private, I will reinforce our simple, reasonable request for a free trade agreement based on those the EU has signed before with like-minded partners.”