As the threat of a no deal Brexit coincides with fears over the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is resisting an extension to negotiations with Brussels. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and a number of Conservative MPs have called for talks to go into next year after France banned UK freight from entering the country. This means there is just a week and a half for Brussels and London to agree and then ratify a trade deal before the transition period ends on January 1. Disagreements that have prevented a trade deal from being agreed include clashes over fisheries and regulatory divergence.
The EU wants the UK to conform to its trading standards, and is also looking to maintain European vessels’ access to British waters.
RTE’s Europe Editor Tony Connelly explained in the Brexit Republic podcast that Mr Johnson has made a key concession which could allow Brussels to “take action” against the UK in the future.
He said: “It appears that at some point the UK accepted the principle that if the UK diverged from EU standards in the future, then the EU had a right to take action either through tariffs or through another measure if it felt the UK was distorting competition.
“That was a big shift in the UK’s position, but the EU also shifted its own position.
“Essentially it said the EU could take action against the UK if there was a clear, competitive advantage to the UK by moving away from EU standards on labour or social issues.
“But they would have to consult with the UK first through an arbitration process, possibly a committee – this has been described as ‘managed divergence.’
“Giving the UK the sense it will be allowed to diverge but it would be managed by both sides to make sure nobody gets burned.”
Mr Connelly warned that the process of arbitration could take a long time however, meaning the EU could slap “retaliatory tariffs” on the UK while the disputes were being dealt with.
The journalist added that the EU will have a weakness in this scenario as “tit for tat” tariffs will hurt some EU member states because of an industry they may not have a huge stake in.
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“But was Brexit the right answer to that question? I would say no.
“We want to remain good neighbours, but the politicians who advocated for Brexit, many of them lied about the facts.
“I wish them all the best to face the consequences of what they wanted, because the future for the UK won’t be as rosy as they say it will.
“I can’t be friends with the likes of Nigel Farage, Iain Duncan Smith or certainly Dominic Cummings.”