The EU and the United Kingdom start tough talks on post-Brexit relations
BRUSSELS: and EU trade negotiators embarked on high-risk talks aimed at forging a new post-Brexit relationship on Monday, with a tight time and parties far apart on key issues.
The main EU negotiator Michel Barnier and his British counterpart, David Frost, met in Brussels , starting several months of intense conversations that will mobilize some one hundred officials on each side.
The negotiations began just over a month after they left the EU, and are bound to conclude by the end of this year, an extremely tight deadline that few consider feasible for anything other than a basic agreement.
The deadline is effectively December 31, the end of the current transition period of the United Kingdom during which it trades as an EU member without tariffs or other barriers.
British Prime Minister Boris johnson He has ruled out extending the transition and both sides expect an EU-UK summit in June to decide whether the talks are worth continuing.
The negotiations have been marred by distrust and weeks of blows to the chest, since each party has accused the other of failing to meet the goals of high ambition set out in a political statement reached last year.
The mandates published last week highlighted the EU's objective of securing a level playing field to prevent Britain from undermining European standards on labor, fiscal, environmental and state subsidies. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom insists on establishing its own rules in the name of economic and political independence.
Acrimony pushed the pound sterling 1.3 percent lower against the euro on Monday, amid fears that Britain's hardline stance would damage the economy.
Experts warned that the two sides are in the process of collision, with a highly unlikely agreement without an important concession.
Fabian Zuleeg, head of the European Policy Center, said he was pessimistic about the result given the fervent desire of the United Kingdom to break with EU rules.
It is very difficult to see where they could meet to make this work, he said. If the British government sticks to your line, there can be no agreement.
Underlining tensions, Barnier, in an unusual display of coups on the podium, warned Britain that any setback in its EU divorce terms would torpedo trade talks.
The Brexit agreement requires, in particular, British merchandise controls that cross the Irish Sea into the territory of the United Kingdom of Northern Ireland that Johnson now says are unnecessary.
Clearly, at the beginning of any negotiation, there is a bit of stance. Both sides want to present the strongest case possible, said Zuleeg.
Experts see a limited agreement on goods as the most likely outcome, but that would still require customs controls for products that cross the Canal and lacks the ambition requested by companies.
But fishing, of relatively minor economic importance but of totemic importance for Britain and EU states like France and, could be the high point that ruins an agreement.
Barnier has emphasized that fishing is inextricably linked to the entire agreement. The EU requires that its fishing boats continue to have access to British waters in exchange for British fishermen to sell their catch in their largest and closest market.