Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) leaves 10 Downing Street in London on December 8, 2020 to attend the weekly cupboard assembly held on the close by Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Britain on Tuesday hailed a turning level within the struggle in opposition to the coronavirus pandemic, because it begins the most important vaccination programme within the nation’s historical past with a brand new Covid-19 jab.
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP
Prime Minister Boris Johnson headed to Brussels on Wednesday, with hopes for a post-Brexit commerce deal hanging on disaster talks with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen.
Johnson’s sprint again to town the place he made his identify as an EU-bashing newspaper reporter marks the final likelihood of a breakthrough earlier than Britain leaves the EU single market.
Talks are blocked over the difficulty of honest competitors, with Britain refusing to just accept a mechanism that may permit the EU to retaliate swiftly if UK enterprise laws change in ways in which put European companies at a drawback.
EU negotiator Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost have narrowed the gaps over eight months of talks however London insists it can reclaim full sovereignty on the finish of the yr after half-a-century of shut financial integration.
If Britain leaves the EU single market in three weeks with no follow-on Free Trade Agreement (FTA) the delays that vacationers and freight will face at its borders with the European Union will likely be compounded by import tariffs that may drive up costs.
“I hope we will secure an FTA,” mentioned senior UK minister Michael Gove, who with Johnson led the “leave” marketing campaign within the 2016 Brexit referendum.
But he warned that if there isn’t any deal Britain would take steps “to make sure British businesses are competitive as possible”.
In Berlin, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel mentioned there was nonetheless an opportunity for a deal.
But she warned: “We must not endanger the integrity of the common market.”
– Demolition declare –
Johnson spoke to Von der Leyen on Monday by phone to safe the final likelihood dinner invitation after negotiations between Barnier and Frost broke off with out settlement.
He will journey by airplane and arrive late Wednesday for talks on the Berlaymont, the EU constructing he as soon as wrongly reported was scheduled for demolition when he lined Brussels as a newspaper journalist within the early Nineties.
But officers on either side expressed pessimism forward of the last-ditch encounter.
“I am always hopeful, but I have to be honest with you, the situation at the moment is tricky,” Johnson mentioned as he toured a London hospital on Tuesday.
“Our friends have to understand the UK has left the EU to exercise democratic control. We are a long way apart still.”
Barnier, in the meantime, gave a downbeat briefing to European ministers forward of Thursday’s EU leaders summit, then tweeted: “We will never sacrifice our future for the present. Access to our market comes with conditions.”
A senior EU supply mentioned Brussels would give no extra floor and that if Johnson wished a deal it was as much as him to compromise.
“The sticking point in the negotiations is the equivalence clause requested by the EU to avoid distortions of competition if the UK refuses to align itself over time with EU tax, social and environmental standards,” he mentioned.
But a UK authorities supply warned: “We must be realistic that an agreement may not be possible, as we will not compromise on reclaiming UK sovereignty.”
The supply added, nonetheless: “If we can make progress at a political level it may allow Lord Frost and his team to resume negotiations over the coming days.”
On Thursday, EU leaders together with Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron will likely be in Brussels for a two-day summit dominated by an EU price range dispute, however Johnson is just not anticipated to fulfill them.
In latest weeks a number of member states, publicly led by France however representing a number of of Britain’s closest neighbours, have expressed concern that Germany and Von der Leyen’s European Commission have been too able to compromise with London.
– ‘Trust and confidence’ –
Even as London and Brussels attempt to carve out a brand new buying and selling relationship, the separate and politically vexed difficulty of Northern Ireland has loomed within the background.
Northern Ireland can have the UK’s solely land border with the bloc from subsequent yr, and that border is supposed to remain open as a part of the 1998 peace deal that ended three a long time of violence over British rule.
Johnson’s authorities had infuriated Dublin and Brussels by introducing a UK inner market invoice that may override the EU Withdrawal Agreement, which certain London to respect Northern Ireland’s distinctive standing.
But some measure of belief was restored on Tuesday when Gove and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic mentioned an settlement had been made “in principle” on border preparations.
The breakthrough covers items passing from the British mainland to the province, and onwards to the EU’s single market through Ireland.
As a consequence, London will minimize three controversial clauses within the invoice going via the UK parliament that may have denied Brussels a say in future buying and selling preparations between the province and Ireland.
That may clean the trail for Johnson’s journey after Germany’s Europe minister Michael Roth pointedly demanded London restore “trust and confidence”.