European Union leaders meet at a summit to give Prime Minister Boris Johnson a final warning. What does each side demand?
The 27 national leaders of the European Union are meeting this Thursday and Friday in Brussels – without press and with delegations very restricted by the pandemic – to tell British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the ultimatum will not work and that if he abandons the negotiations, his country will be the great victim.
Also to update the contingency plans in the event that the United Kingdom ends on December 31 its transitional year towards its departure from the European Union without any agreement to cushion the economic damage.
Boris Johnson said several times in recent weeks that if the 27 did not come out with an agreement that satisfies him, he would close the door to negotiations. It is a threat to which no one in Brussels gives credibility.
The summit will probably give a kick forward a few weeks to the can of Brexit to continue negotiating. Europeans have repeated for years that they will never leave the table. If someone breaks the negotiations it will have to be London.
The British government barely has time – we have to allow a few weeks for the parliamentary ratifications of a hypothetical agreement – and to push the nail further, the European Commissioner for Industry, Thierry Breton, said this Wednesday in a radio interview that European customs are ready for a hard Brexit and without any agreement – so trade between the island and the mainland would be governed by WTO rules – but not British customs.
The chapters that prevent an agreement from being reached have been the same for months. Brussels demands, for example, that the United Kingdom commit itself to align itself with the European policy of state aid to prevent the British government from giving in to the temptation to turn its economy into a tax haven that harms Europeans.
The Europeans also demand that the British government ensure that it will maintain in a similar way to the European ones all its laws on issues such as environmental protection, social benefits or workers’ rights. The summit could end with the commission of the 27 to the European Commission to update and expand its current contingency plans for a possible hard Brexit. And it could also close another door that the British want to open.
All these commitments and promises must be enforceable in court to prevent the UK from doing what it did during this transitional year, in which it legislated on Northern Ireland in a way that is inconsistent with the Withdrawal Agreement governing the transition to final divorce .
That initiative by Boris Johnson ended the little confidence his European counterparts had in him. Boris is once again seen in the European capital as a mixture of clown, ultra-liberal reactionary and liar, which was during the 90s, when he was in charge of the Brussels correspondent of the British Europhobic newspaper The Daily Telegraph.
Europeans also want their fishing boats to continue fishing in English waters as usual. Anathema for the British government, whose small economically but politically sensitive fishing sector voted en masse for Brexit because they had been promised they should no longer share their waters.
London begins to give in to fear of the cliff. The British negotiator, David Frost, even said that he would be willing to give up on state aid if the Europeans gave up on fishing. The European negotiator, Michel Barnier, met shortly after with the German Angela Merkel and the French Emmanuel Macron to ask them to give up something in fishing.
The countries whose fishing vessels fish the most in British waters do not accept what London is proposing: a system of fishing quotas negotiable annually. They are, in order of importance according to their fishing fleets in English waters, France, Spain, Denmark and Belgium.
Nobody wants to add Brexit fuel to the fire of the pandemic and its economic crisis, but Europeans have no intention of compromising because they know that the UK’s negotiating position is much weaker. The president of the European Commission, Úrsula Von der Leyen, said on Wednesday that the EU continues to seek an agreement, “but not at any price.”