Three Weeks’ Notice
EU-UK negotiations, that already appeared to be going stale, hit a wall this week when the UK Government introduced the Internal Market Bill to Parliament. The domestic legislation would see some changes to the Withdrawal Agreement and set out trading arrangements in the UK after the Brexit transition period, something that is meant to be agreed upon by both the EU and the UK under the Northern Ireland Protocol. The UK Government have claimed that they have made the decision to introduce the Internal Market Bill as the Withdrawal Agreement would be “hugely harmful” to the peace process and should be amended to provide more “clarity” ahead of the end of the transition period in December.
This dramatic change in direction from the UK Government has caused a ripple of opposition both within the EU, with the Irish Government stating that they are “gravely concerned about Britain’s intention”, and the Tory backbenchers, who have already tabled an amendment to prevent the Government overriding the Withdrawal Agreement.
Brussels called an immediate meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee to review the impact of the UK’s decision whilst continuing with the eighth round of negotiations this week. The European Commission Vice President, Maroš Šefčovič, met with UK Cabinet Minister, Michael Gove, and gave the UK three weeks to change their course of action or risk the legal consequences. Gove has assured the EU that the Government does not plan to U-turn on this and instead will attempt to bring the legislation through Parliament in the next two weeks, which should be possible given the Government’s large majority.
The decision to give an ultimatum is a clear signal from Brussels that the UK has crossed the line and places the blame on Boris Johnson for jeopardising the future relationship with the EU. Brussels are determined not to be blamed for any fallout in the negotiations and the official statement ensures that the future of the negotiations rest with the UK Government, who are already facing pressure from all sides to backtrack on their plans.
The UK Government is holding their ground and almost committing themselves to a no-deal Brexit by December, although they have been known to U-turn more than once before… Additionally, Brussels may feel the pressure as the end of the transition period approaches and offer a compromise in an attempt to avoid a no-deal, especially following the ongoing recovery from the global pandemic. However, for the moment, both sides appear committed to risking a no-deal Brexit.
The introduction of the Internal Market Bill has potentially jeopardised not only the EU-UK trade negotiations but also the US-UK trade deal, as the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that there was “absolutely no chance” of a trade deal being passed through the US Congress if the UK moves ahead with the Bill. Pelosi emphasised that the Good Friday Agreement would be “proudly defended by the United States” and called for the UK to respect the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Whilst the Internal Market Bill has not paused the US-UK negotiations themselves, it is significant that it is already facing strong criticism within the US Congress and may put some pressure on the UK to backtrack on this decision. Yet, for the moment, the Government appears committed to introducing the Bill.
Eighth Times the Charm?
Despite the turbulence of this week, the eighth round of negotiations between Brussels and the EU took place. David Frost, the UK’s Brexit Negotiator, claimed that the conversations had been “useful”, however little progress has been made regarding fishing rights, a level playing field and now future trade arrangements.
Many now hope that an agreement can be formed in time for the European Council meeting next month, allowing EU27 leaders to vote on the deal. Yet, it is clear that European leaders are becoming increasingly frustrated with the UK over Brexit, especially after this week, and it remains to be seen whether they will be willing to devote the time required to resolve the current obstacles to a deal.
That being said, because of the Internal Market Bill, the leaders have now agreed to add the topic to the meeting agenda in a final attempt to see some progress and compromise. Some commentators are claiming that this was Johnson’s true aim with the introduction of the Bill, however many reports have suggested that European leaders are incredibly angry by the move and more willing to walk away from negotiations than before.
Upcoming Key Dates
• 1st October: Deadline for UK to revoke on the Internal Market Bill
• 15-16th October: European Council Meeting
• 31st December: End of the transition period.
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