“The news is very pessimistic.”

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First the negotiators, then again Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson: The Brexit talks are entering the final phase. The mood at the EU in Brussels is gloomy.
Almost four weeks before the end of the Brexit transition phase, pessimism is spreading within the EU. EU negotiator Michel Barnier still sees no decisive progress, reported diplomats. Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney was also not very hopeful after a briefing from Barnier. He told Irish broadcaster RTÉ: “The news is very pessimistic.” After Barnier had briefed on the state of affairs, Barnier appeared “very dejected and cautious about the prospects for progress”.

This means that there have been no signs of a breakthrough in the potentially decisive negotiations between the European Union and Great Britain. According to EU diplomats, there is still no agreement on the three main points of contention: future fishing rights, guarantees for fair competition and a dispute settlement mechanism in the event of violations of the planned agreement.

The EU offers Great Britain free trade in goods without tariffs and quantity restrictions – but also without dumping environmental or social standards and subsidies. This is hidden behind the point of fair, competitive conditions – in negotiation jargon, level playing field. The problem: Great Britain would like to have a few guidelines as possible from the EU. The EU, on the other hand, does not want its market to be opened up to companies that have to comply with lower standards and can therefore produce more cheaply. The second major issue, fisheries, is the amount that EU fishermen are allowed to catch in British waters. We are talking about quotas and a clause to review the regulation after a certain period – a so-called revision clause.
“The outcome is still open, it can go in both directions,” said Brussels. The game is now in the final phase. “Time is running out quickly.”

Further rounds of negotiations are scheduled. On Monday evening, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will assess the status of the talks. If there is not an agreement on future relationships, including free trade agreements in the next few days, there is a risk of a hard break-in in early 2021 with significant disruptions for the economy.

At the same time as the new negotiations, the British House of Commons is again dealing with the controversial Internal Market Act. The draft has caused an uproar in the EU because it potentially undermines parts of the Brexit treaty. For Johnson, it serves as a safety net in case the negotiations with the EU do not bring about a final settlement on the trade in goods. The law would allow him to overturn the regulation enshrined in the Brexit Treaty, according to which EU customs rules will continue to apply in the British province of Northern Ireland. The EU has threatened legal action. The move is also controversial in Johnson’s party.

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