By Teodor Ispas.
Yes, you can stop pinching yourself now and yes Brexit has finally happened, as on the 31st of January the UK has officially left the European Union. However, those who might think that all is over and that the UK can now completely move on, would be mistaken. What follows next?
While it may no longer be a formal member of the EU, the UK is currently finding itself locked within a transition period, forced to remain in compliance with European rules and regulations. This transition period is expected to be over by the end of 2020, by which time the EU and UK will have to have agreed on a trade deal as well as an agreement on free movement, security cooperation and access to the various programmes that both countries have to offer.
Not surprisingly, both parties have issued written statements depicting their negotiating positions ahead of the formal negotiations that are due to commence on the 3rdof March.
On the European side, the Council’s Decisions Draft touches upon 3 major areas of negotiation: general arrangements, economic arrangements and security arrangements. The EU puts strong emphasis on 2 main issues. They express their wishes for free trade with the UK provided that both sides trade on a “level playing field”, the latter point being mentioned no less than 14 times in the draft. In other words, the EU is more than willing to trade freely with the UK and grant it a form of access to the Single Market, however, under a certain condition. The UK would be expected to follow rules similar to the EU ones on a variety of issues such as workers’ rights, state aid and safety regulations. This is mainly because they are concerned the UK could temper with some of their internal rules and create unfair advantages when engaging in trades.
Secondly, the EU requests full free access to British waters in exchange for full free access to European waters.
Finally, the EU is willing to not impose Visa requirements for short periods of travel for British citizens, if the UK is willing to reciprocate and allow the same. One last mention is that the EU acknowledges that British Courts are no longer bound by European laws. However, they are conditioning the cooperation on security by requesting the UK to continue following the ECHR articles.
From the United Kingdom’s perspective, not surprisingly, the demands and expectations from a potential deal with the EU are somewhat different.
The UK Government has issued a Political Declaration in which they are making clear that the UK is only interested in a Canada style agreement which would not comply with some of the EU’s conditions. Mainly, the UK is not willing to follow any EU regulations once the transition period is over and wants full control over British waters and fish. Furthermore, the Prime Minister has made clear in his latest speech that the UK will no longer abide by EU’s worker’s rights and manufacturing regulations, prompting fears inside the European Union that the UK might lower standards in order to gain unfair trading advantages.
Finally, the UK wishes to incorporate Gibraltar in every aspect of the negotiation as part of the country, something that the EU disagrees with as they believe Spain should have a say first on the future of Gibraltar before any agreements are made.
At this stage it is still early to tell exactly what will happen, and negotiations only begin formally on the 3rd of March. However so far both sides seem to disagree more than they managed to find consensus and with the UK’s warning that they will not extend negotiations beyond the deadline of December 2020, it makes one cast doubt on the potential of a healthy and productive relationship between the two parties moving forward.