LEADING THE WAY OUT OF THE EU

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Friday 6 March 2020

Michel Barnier said yesterday there were “very grave and serious” disagreements between Britain and the EU after round one of trade talks wrapped up.

The EU’s chief negotiator listed four areas where the two sides are completely at odds: a level playing field on EU standards, continued rule of EU courts, UK demands for separate agreements vs. EU calls for a single bigger agreement, and fisheries.

Britain’s negotiator, David Frost didn’t see the point of the press conference and went home so Barnier spoke alone. He spent the first 15 minutes complaining about the short timetable and blasted UK negotiators for not understanding the size of the task ahead.

Fisheries and the nonsense about a level playing field are still the two main sticking points. The EU insists there can’t be a trade deal unless Britain re-adopts the hated Common Fisheries Policy and decides to keep on implementing punishing EU rules.

However, the row over human rights is catching up fast. Last week the Telegraph revealed Boris would reject EU calls for an additional section in the final agreement binding the UK to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The UK’s negotiating mandate is clear on this matter: “The agreement should not specify how the UK or the EU Member States should protect and enforce human rights and the rule of law within their own autonomous legal systems.”

Why the EU is pushing this old agenda while complaining about lack of time is anyone’s guess. The ECHR is not even an EU charter – although it holds bible-like status in Brussels – if the main worry is giving EU courts the power to rule on disputes once the trade agreement is in place, just say so.

The EU’s armour is visibly thin, chinks are already appearing.

Barnier relished in saying the UK would be outside the Single Market and would no longer enjoy its dubious benefits. If that’s the case, why does Britain need to remain in the Common Fisheries Policy, an EU structure that goes beyond the Single Market – non-EU Norway and Iceland are in the Single Market, not the CFP.

That’s an issue being pushed by the EU member states, not the EU, said Barnier. Aren’t the EU27, together with the Commission, Barnier’s employers, supposed to speak with one voice? Certainly doesn’t seem that way.  

Round one of talks was a scrappy affair, but a success compared to Theresa May’s spluttering attempts to make progress at the negotiating table in Brussels. “We understand each other’s positions. That hasn’t always been the case in the past,” an EU negotiator told Politico.

Given the differences, Politico, like us anticipate some fireworks in the not too distant future. One side will need to threaten to walk out for the other side to wake up. No prizes for guessing who, on the face of it at least, needs a generous dose of caffeine and who is more willing to walk out.

We await round two on March 18.