“We are going to work very hard to get a deal,” promised British chief negotiator David Frost upon his arrival in the Belgian capital, where talks resumed after being interrupted on Friday after an unsuccessful week in London.
“We will see if we can move forward,” warned European Michel Barnier on Saturday evening, in a tweet expressing his caution on the outcome of this new session of talks.
This “new effort” was decided on Saturday evening at the highest level by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.
The two officials will make a new point on Monday evening, under ever stronger pressure on the calendar, since a possible trade agreement will still have to be ratified by the British and European parliaments before entering into force on January 1.
“We are probably in the last days to be able to decide whether there can be an agreement,” George Eustice, the British Minister for the Environment told the BBC on Sunday.
On the EU side, the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, considers that a choice will have to be made “in the coming days”.
“Either to continue to negotiate, or to act the + no deal +. Because if this is the case, it is better to know it now than at Christmas”, he told the Journal du Dimanche.
Ireland, on the front line in the event of a no deal, pleaded Sunday for the negotiations to be successful. The absence of an agreement “will have a very, very heavy cost and will be very, very destabilizing for the United Kingdom and Ireland,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney warned on RTE. He said he was confident that “the negotiating teams and the political leaders would find a way out”.
Germany, which currently holds the EU presidency, reminded on Saturday evening that it would not accept a deal “at any cost”.
A commitment intended to reassure Europeans, at a time when tensions appeared last week between the Twenty-Seven, some fearing that the EU, pushed by Berlin, would grant too large concessions to avoid a “no deal”.
European negotiator Michel Barnier is due to take stock of discussions with member states early Monday morning, during a meeting of their ambassadors.
“Within the Twenty-Seven, there are different sensitivities. It would be naive to deny it,” conceded Clément Beaune. But “in recent days, the big players have realigned themselves again, all in the same position.” He reiterated that in the event of an agreement “not in conformity” with the interests of France, in particular for its fishermen, Paris could put its “veto” there.
The access of European fishermen to British waters, a hypersensitive subject for some member states, is among the three points which have blocked discussions since March, with how to settle disputes in the future agreement and the guarantees demanded by the EU in competition in exchange for British access without quota or tariff to its large market.
This new 48-hour streak may not be the last, as the Brexit saga has been so rich in twists and turns.
According to George Eustice, the deal seemed close on Thursday evening, before the EU added “a set of additional demands which caused some problems”.
Whatever the outcome on Monday evening, the future relationship with London should anyway be one of the hot topics of the European summit on Thursday and Friday in Brussels.
Since its official departure from the EU on January 31, the United Kingdom has continued to apply European rules. It is only at the end of this transitional period, on December 31, that it will leave the single market and the customs union.
In the absence of an agreement, trade between London and the EU will take place from January 1 under the sole rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), synonymous with customs duties or quotas, at the risk of a new shock. economic in addition to that linked to the coronavirus pandemic.