A deal requires three pieces to fall into place in the coming weeksby Anton Spisak / October 24, 2020 / Leave a comment
When Boris Johnson agreed the withdrawal treaty with the EU last autumn, he first blustered, then asked for the closed-room talks, and finally backed down to concessions in private. His was a tactical play in which, to get a deal, he had to look resolute at home but show more flexibility in Brussels.
The same tactic is being used by the Prime Minister now. In September, the government sought to destabilise the trade talks with new law-breaking legislation, the Internal Market Bill. Last week, Johnson tried to pull the plug on the negotiating process completely until Brussels offered an olive branch, agreeing that negotiators can start developing the legal texts. And so, the two sides have agreed on new choreography, with the teams meeting every day to try to hammer out as much of the agreement as possible, until they run out of road.
It is a measure of how little trust there is in the talks that, after nearly eight months of negotiations, the two sides have started this critical process just now. Until last week, negotiators were stuck in a cycle of dissecting each other’s positions and red lines. It is only ten weeks before the transition period ends, and three weeks before the deal must be finalised, when they have started work on the actual agreement. Mistrust runs as high as mutual misunderstanding between Britain and the EU.
We are now finally in a phase when detail is being discussed, legal solutions explored, and joint positions formulated. Yet key disagreements between the two sides are political, not technical. Inevitably, their resolution will require the politicians to engage.
There will be a deal only if both sides can claim to have secured their main defensive interests: the EU its ask on level-playing field commitments, the UK on sovereign control of its fishing waters, while both sides require reassurance over the Northern Ireland protocol, with Brussels needing convincing that the arrangements will actually be implemented, and the UK that they will not violate its red lines on state aid or the union. For this seemingly impossible bargain to be struck, there are three pieces that have to fall into place within the coming weeks.
First, the UK must offer greater clarity to…