Contrary to recent reports, the European Union knows Britain could walk away and is preparing accordinglyby Georgina Wright / August 25, 2020 / Leave a comment
I’ll let you in on a well-known secret: the EU is a formidable negotiator. It does not always get what it wants but it has got rather good at negotiating with third countries. Take trade deals: it has more trade agreements than any other country or group of countries—and at the last count, it had a dozen negotiations on the go. It also has a process that reflects years of fine tuning, which it applies to each negotiation in much the same way: appoint the right team, keep member states and the EU Parliament in the loop, know who you are negotiating with and crucially, prepare for all eventualities.
Talks with the UK are no different. Recently, there have been reports in the UK media that the EU does not think Downing Street would really be ready to walk away with no trade deal, especially in the middle of a pandemic. This is misreading the situation; while Brussels is cautiously optimistic about reaching a deal, it knows that might not happen, and that a breakdown was always possible because of the limited time available for negotiations. This is why it has been meticulously planning for multiple scenarios, including a no-deal outcome.
The EU knows this is a complex negotiation. There are still real points of disagreement over the need for a level playing field, fishing quotas and access for EU vessels to British waters. UK and EU negotiators are working tirelessly (having upped the number of negotiating rounds over the summer) but neither side wants to give in too quickly. So much so that a breakthrough may only be possible with political intervention later in the Autumn.
But the negotiations are only part of the challenge. EU lawyers will also need time to go through the 400-plus pages of agreement (known in the EU jargon as “legal scrubbing”). The European Parliament will need time to debate and scrutinise the deal before MEPs vote on it. Businesses will also need time to prepare—getting the necessary paperwork ready to continue trading and making sure road hauliers have the right permits, insurance and driving licenses. The challenge is even greater for certain sectors under a no-deal scenario.
The EU is under no illusion: there are many things that could go wrong, which…