BRUSSELS: EU and UK trade negotiations continued on Monday under renewed pressure as travel uncertainty sparked by the advent of a more infectious coronavirus type in Britain overshadowed attempts to reach a Brexit agreement.
Just 10 days remain until 1 January, when Britain would leave the EU Single Market and Customs Union, and when another deadline expired, expectations of securing a new deal suffered a blow.
The EU and British negotiators stayed in Brussels, and discussions were already blocked over the European crew’s right to resume fishing in the fertile waters of Britain, as well as questions over fair trade laws.
Without an arrangement, on 31 December (11pm UK time) at midnight, Britain’s ties to the European Union will end with a fresh tariff barrier that will sharpen the big shock of unravelling half a century of EU membership.
The Sunday deadline set by the European Parliament, which may fail to accept the deal, elapsed without an agreement being reached, leaving little time until 1 January for MEPs to ratify an eventual agreement.
“Westminster political games have wasted too much time,” said German MEP Manfred Weber, who chairs the parliamentary conservative party, warning that representatives will take their time and not “rubber stamp” a letter.
But Weber also said parliament “will remain constructive partners” and that, while what they were, “alternative procedures are possible,” was not yet decided.
As long as an agreement is reached in the next few hours or days, European sources have reported that this may entail the tentative implementation of a deal with MEPs in January.
Broadly speaking, the EU side claims that 31 December is the only deadline that matters now,” said Mujtaba Rahman of the Eurasia Group, a consultancy.”
Whatever the situation, in the event of no contract, the EU has finalised interim arrangements to handle road and air transport for six months and fishing for a year, but it will also include a similar arrangement from the UK.
“We remain very far from an agreement,” a European diplomat warned, adding that others on the EU side were weighing whether it was time to leave.
“It’s not very healthy to negotiate through exhaustion,” the diplomat said. As Britain was essentially cut off from the world, the talks in Brussels continued, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a highly infectious virus mutation was circulating in the UK.
The emergency left holiday passengers stranded and diverted merchandise crossing the River, fearing the likely consequences of a failure to negotiate a trade agreement at the last minute.
“What’s happening in Britain is a tragedy, and this Brexit is a tragedy, and we see it more and more every day,” said French EU Commissioner Thierry Breton to BFM Company when asked about the latest epidemic.
If Britain had decided to stay in the European Union,… We could’ve helped them today,’ claimed Breton.
A senior UK government official on Sunday said the talks remained “difficult and substantial differences remain” with only days before negotiators could go home for Christmas, assuming the border reopens.
“We continue to explore every path to an agreement that is in line with the basic principles that we have put into the negotiations,” he said.
On 1 January, Britain plans to take sovereignty of its oceans, but is willing to enable continued entry to EU fishing fleets under new terms for a transitional duration.