British MPs on Tuesday approved the bill of the government of Boris Johnson, which partially returns to the Brexit agreement and angering Europeans, in the final straight line of trade negotiations between London and the 27.
After their divorce earlier this year, the two sides set a goal of reaching a free trade agreement in October. The prospect of no deal being reached on January 1 would be potentially catastrophic, economically speaking.
Negotiations resumed Tuesday in Brussels for a ninth round, but the previous eight have not allowed any major breakthrough. The tension escalated in September, when Boris Johnson's government introduced a bill contradicting the treaty governing their divorce.
The text, which London admits violates international law, was approved in the evening at third reading by MEPs at 340 for and 256 against, paving the way for its consideration by the lords in the weeks to come.
The green light comes as no surprise, given Boris Johnson's overwhelming majority in the House of Commons, despite criticism from five former prime ministers and some of the ruling Tories.
To appease the anger within its camp, the government had accepted an amendment giving more power to the Parliament to control the controversial provisions, without satisfying Brussels which threatened with a legal action for lack of withdrawal by the end of September.
The text returns to certain provisions for the British province of Northern Ireland, planned to avoid the return of a border with the Republic of Ireland, a safeguard considered essential to the maintenance of peace on the island.
For Boris Johnson, the aim of the project is to defend the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom by ensuring the continuity of trade between Great Britain and the province of Northern Ireland.
But for the Europeans, it is a blow to mutual trust in the critical phase of negotiations on the future relationship, led by Michel Barnier on the European side and David Frost on the British side.
After a meeting Monday with British Minister Michael Gove, European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic ruled out that the subject could torpedo trade talks:
It will never be the EU that will bring about the end of negotiations on the future partnership.
The series of discussions which began on Tuesday must end on Friday, in the middle of a European summit in the Belgian capital. Negotiators hope to achieve
tunnel negotiations, that time when an agreement seems close enough to embark on continuous closed-door talks.
Time is running out: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set the date of October 15, the day of a European summit in Brussels, for an agreement. The Europeans have given themselves until the end of October.
In the absence of an agreement, a sudden break in trade would further shake up economies already weakened by the new coronavirus pandemic.
Trade talks still stumble on several sensitive topics, such as
governance the future agreement, or the eternal question of the guarantees required by the EU in fiscal, social, environmental and above all state aid, to avoid seeing the emergence of a deregulated economy on the other side of the Channel, who would compete unfairly.
An agreement must also be found on fishing, a particularly explosive subject for a handful of Member States like France, but also Spain, Denmark, Belgium or the Netherlands, which hope for a status quo in the access of their fishermen to British waters, very full of fish.
Several diplomats from other Member States – who have no interest in this subject – however judge the EU
too strict on fishing, which they imagine as a possible adjustment variable with the United Kingdom.
The partnership will be approved unanimously. We must therefore take into account the different interests of other Member States and show solidarity. That being said, the EU must be realistic, underlines one of them.
Read also :
- Brexit: Johnson incurs the wrath of his own party and the EU
- Increasingly tense post-Brexit negotiations