by N. Peter Kramer
On Monday March 2 the bell rang for the start of the trade negotiations between the UK and the EU: Boris Johnson’s negotiator David Frost versus Michel Barnier. However, some observers have their doubts regarding the term ‘negotiation’, when Barnier is at the table. The former French minister excels in making immovable demands and trying to force the other side to their knees. Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, can testify to that. Will we see the same pattern this time?
The EU demands look as though they will lead to a hard Brexit and are a straight brushing aside of the British popular will. Three times the Brits have obviously chosen independence from the EU. Last time, November 2019, they offered their prime minister a majority in the House of Commons to finally sort it out. But it seems that ‘Brussels’ is not willing at all to accept this. The British negotiation document ‘The Future Relationship with the EU’ is clear, it says, that the U.K. will maintain high standards and wants full control over the future direction of its regulations. ‘Whatever happens, the government will not negotiate any arrangement in which the U.K. does not have control over its own laws and political life,’ the document reads. ‘That means that we will not agree to any obligations for our laws to be aligned with the EU’s or for the EU’s institutions, including the Court of Justice”.
The EU has a completely different idea. It wants to keep the UK as a kind of a surrogate member with no right to participate in decision-making but signing up to follow Brussels rules and regulations, maintaining the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, a 100% level playing field, free entrance for all EU fishermen to the British waters, etcetera. Asking for a ‘Canada-Free Trade Agreement type relationship’ with the EU, Barnier answered Frost that such a deal cannot happen because the UK is not far enough away from the EU…
UK and EU are in a transition period until 31 December of this year following the UK’s departure from the EU on 31 January. But the British Government said that if no agreement is in sight by June, the government could ditch negotiations and focus on preparing to leave without a trade agreement. Isn’t it up to the EU to follow through Barnier’s statement to offer the UK an ‘ambitious partnership’, between sovereign equals.