The United Kingdom and the European Union were supposed to be at an advanced stage of trade talks now, but the coronavirus pandemic has pushed Brexit into the background, with latest talks by video-link on Friday described as ‘disappointing’.
The UK symbolically left the EU in January and entered into a ‘transition’ phase until December 31, by when both sides are expected to finalise post-Brexit trade and other arrangements. Until the date, the UK remains a full member of the EU.
The key aspect is whether the Boris Johnson government will ask for an extension of the December 31 deadline, which it has so far insisted will not do. As EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said after the Friday talks, “the clock is ticking”.
Major areas of disagreement remain, particularly on the issue of justice (EU wants the UK to stay under jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice), trade (goods and services), fisheries and a level playing field (the UK’s access to the EU single market after December 31).
Barnier said genuine progress and a decision on the deadline’s extension needed to be made by June. Two rounds of technical talks are scheduled in May but without political involvement, the impasse is unlikely to be resolved.
Barnier said: “The UK did not wish to commit seriously on a number of fundamental points…The UK cannot refuse to extend transition and at the same time slow down discussions on important areas…the clock is ticking”.
In London, a government spokesperson said: “We do not recognise the suggestion that we have not engaged seriously with the EU in any area…We now need to move forward in a constructive fashion. The UK remains committed to a deal with a Free Trade Agreement at its core”.