LONDON / BRUSSELS – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will address European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday to try to quell unrest in trade talks as the end comes to a halt to the end of the Brexit crisis.
Britain left the European Union on January 31 but the rules governing trade, tourism and business remain unchanged during the transition that ends on December 31, when new alliances will be built – with or without an agreement.
Negotiations between Johnson and von der Leyen could give political impetus to bring the parties closer to closing their major differences, or highlight that “red lines” on both sides mean that an agreement is not reached.
If the two sides fail to reach an agreement, Brexit’s five-year divorce will end badly as Britain and Europe face huge economic costs of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The British and EU negotiations suspended the trade talks on Friday to call on their leaders to try to reduce the gaps and to reach an agreement after a week of negotiations failed to prevent major divisions between the two sides.
“We remain calm, as usual, and if there is still a way, we will see,” EU negotiator Michel Barnier told London broadcasters on his way to Brussels.
Johnson was expected to speak to Barnier UK counterpart David Frost and other officials on Saturday morning, ahead of von der Leyen’s call.
The suspension of the talks on Friday was the latest in a series of ongoing talks on three key issues – fishing, which ensures fair competition and ways to resolve future disputes.
Sources from both sides said France’s demand for British fishing rights remains a major problem.
However, an EU official said that French President Emmanuel Macron was not the only one who had doubts, and many member states also expressed concern about how far Barnier had progressed in competition, known as the level-play field.
“It’s not just Macron,” the official said.
Britain says the EU should respect its sovereignty because the results of the 2016 Brexit referendum were a “re-rule” vote.
But the EU says Britain’s proximity to the region means it cannot offer the “Canadian-made” free trade agreement that Johnson has been seeking.
No side has left negotiations yet, suggesting they still hope to secure a deal that regulates nearly $ 1 trillion in trade annually to avoid a disastrous end of more than 40 years of British club membership in Europe.
Without a trade agreement, the United Kingdom would trade with the EU in terms of the World Trade Organization, which would lead to new prices and higher inflation for certain goods.
Getting out of the trade is a serious problem for businessmen and investors, who claim that it can break the barriers, disrupt financial markets and sow discord in supply chains that extend across Europe and beyond.