Johnson and Von der Leyen take the reins to seek in extremis a post-Brexit agreement


Correspondent in Brussels

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The president of the European Commission and the British Prime Minister held a second telephone conversation in three days on Monday, which ended the same as the first, with no sign of possible coincidence in the negotiation on the treaty that will govern trade relations in the future . This time both agreed at least a joint declaration that recognizes the divergences, but he anticipates that they will try to solve them personally in a face-to-face meeting in Brussels.

“We agree that the conditions do not exist to finalize an agreement, due to the remaining significant differences in three fundamental issues: equality of conditions, governance and fisheries”, says this statement in which they immediately affirm that they will take the reins of the last attempt to avoid a sharp breakout from January 1, when the United Kingdom will be permanently disconnected from the EU. For this they ask their chief negotiators and their teams “to prepare an overview of the remaining differences to discuss them in a physical meeting in Brussels in the coming days.”

During the last weeks, the European negotiator, Michel barnierHe had subtly tried to explain that technical negotiations had reached their limit and that there was no further capacity to move forward in the absence of a political decision that by its very nature could mean crossing any of the red lines. With which each party has raised as insurmountable, it has already been clearly seen that they will not converge in any case.

Yesterday it seemed for a few hours that the Barnier and David Frost They had explored that door, because on Sunday at 11 p.m. news was broadcast that suggested that the European Union could give in in the case of fishing, which is something that can be adjusted in economic compensation, number of boats and deadline transitory for its implementation, and in return London seemed willing to renounce that part of its recent legislation that goes against the exit agreement and that threatens to force the reestablishment of physical borders on the island of Ireland.

Fishing in British waters

In addition to Frost, this Tuesday he also traveled to Brussels Michael Gove, the “number two” in Johnson’s cabinet, to meet with the Commission’s vice president, Maros Sefcovic, with which they form the coordinating committee for compliance with the Brexit treaty, to talk precisely about this controversial British legislation that London seems to teach in the negotiation, although without much conviction because withdrawing it would have a very high political cost for Johnson.

The thorny issue of access to British waters by European fishing vessels was not resolved either and in fact the London Government has clearly warned that if there is no agreement, as of January 1 the Royal Navy has been instructed to to forcibly expel from British waters any small European within its limits.

The Secretary of the Environment, George Eustice, announced that the capacity of the British navy’s fishing protection fleet to monitor the waters of the exclusive economic area has been increased, precisely because this “will prevent EU vessels from going fishing” in the event that they are not reached. an agreement.

Even more delicate is the issue of the British economic operators’ respect for European regulations as a condition for continuing to have access to the single market, in which the European position has been defined as inflexible. The British press assures that the governments of France Y Germany They have reiterated to Michel Barnier’s team the negotiating directives according to which this would be an insurmountable red line, so the final outcome of the negotiations remains uncertain.

The theme of trade regulations it is a fundamental issue for both. The EU cannot accept that British manufacturers can compete with Europeans without having to respect the same rules of protection for consumers or the environment, while for Boris Johnson accepting this demand means having to assume that one of the flags of the supporters of Brexi, which was to escape the European regulatory framework, is not going to be fulfilled. Worse still, they should continue to obey the European rules even though they have already lost their ability to draw up and modify them, as it has been withdrawn from the institutions. Brussels wants the UK to have to accept the possibility of imposing unilateral tariffs on British exports that do not comply with those regulations, to avoid unfair competition for EU companies.

In the morning, Barnier had a meeting with the members of the Brexit monitoring committee in the European Parliament and with the ambassadors of the member countries, to whom he clearly explained that in his opinion there are only two days left to reach a agreement, on Tuesday and Wednesday, and that if the situation continues to be blocked on Thursday, there will be no choice but to start preparations for a disconnection without agreement, perhaps with an exception to allow aircraft to continue flying, since in the absence of a general agreement it will be necessary to start building a whole arsenal of common standards from scratch, as if the United Kingdom were a third country with which we have just finished. establish diplomatic relations.

The threat from France

Perhaps Johnson is convinced that by negotiating directly with Von der Leyen he gains a certain advantage over the symmetrical position of the negotiators. In his case, he is the last instance that decides, while the president of the Commission has the legitimacy, powers and mandate to negotiate, but beyond certain limits, she cannot make a decision without being sure that it will be accepted by the main countries. He knows very well the positions of his, Germany, but he has to achieve a result that is also acceptable to everyone else, especially France, which has already threatened several times to block an agreement that goes beyond some of the red lines.

All, Europeans and British, insist that they want to try to reach an agreement, but not with the same intention. This Monday, the Spanish Foreign Minister, Arancha González Laya, said he preferred “a modest agreement” than a separation without agreement. However, President Emmanuel Macron has said that France prefers such a no-rule Brexit “than a bad deal.” Perhaps Boris Johnson also agrees on that, although the Briton has not yet assumed that for his country any agreement will be bad, because it will be worse than being in the club they were part of for 40 years and of which they decided to leave voluntarily.

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