The kingdom left the Union on January 31, but continues to apply European regulations until December 31, the transition period in which London and Brussels hope to reach a trade agreement to regulate their future relationship after Brexit.
Otherwise, a brutal rupture of trade would further shake economies already weakened by the covid-19 pandemic.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson underlined – in a telephone conversation with European Council President Charles Michel, who is to present a “balance sheet” of the negotiations – “our clear commitment to try to reach an agreement”, he announced on Wednesday , in a Downing Street statement.
But Johnson added that “the UK is ready to end the transition period in Australian terms (ie a ‘no deal’) if no agreement is reached,” the British government said.
Negotiations resumed on Wednesday in London, with hopes of completion at the end of October, despite poor progress so far.
These informal meetings continue until Friday, when a meeting between European Brexit chief negotiators Michel Barnier and Britain’s David Frost is scheduled, according to European sources.
“With the books on the table”
European Council President Charles Michel has urged London to “play cards” in these negotiations.
“The EU prefers an agreement, but not at any cost,” he wrote on Twitter.
The Europeans blame London for not entering – yet – the hard core of the negotiations and thus let the specter of a “no deal” hover.
So far, little notable progress has been made in approaching three points of view that are blocking negotiations – fisheries, fair competition and the “governance” of the agreement – after nine rounds of negotiations in London and Brussels.
“We continue to insist on an agreement that is good for both parties and we are putting pressure on the United Kingdom to move, but we are still not sure,” a European source said.
Time is running out as the Europeans want an agreement by the end of October, and the British even earlier, on October 15, when a European summit is scheduled in Brussels, at which Boris Johnson, as leader of a country that is not part of EU is not invited.
In a videoconference meeting on Saturday, European Commission (EC) President Ursula von der Leyen and the British Prime Minister agreed to speed up negotiations with a view to reaching an agreement.
Agreement still far away
British Brexit chief negotiator David Frost believes the two sides are still “far” from a compromise, for the time being, due to “important differences”, he announced in a hearing in the House of Lords.
“Chief negotiators should continue to work hard in the coming days to try to cover the gaps,” Downing Street said.
Negotiations are set to resume next week in Brussels, and London reiterates that it wants to act “constructively” and quickly to reach an agreement, according to a Boris Johnson spokesman.
But French Secretary of State for European Affairs Clément Beaune said on Twitter that “it’s better without an agreement than with a bad agreement.”
A failure to reach an agreement on the future relationship would have disastrous economic consequences, and trade would be governed by World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, with high customs duties.
Ratification of a possible agreement is threatened by tensions over the British bill, which calls into question certain commitments London has made in the divorce treaty on Northern Ireland.