Boris Johnson is insisting that “defects” in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, dating back to negotiations conducted by his predecessor, then-Prime Minister Theresa May and her chief negotiator Olly Robbins, be “fixed”, writes the Express.
A source close to David Frost, the UK Prime Minister’s Europe advisor and chief negotiator for the talks on the country’s future relationship with the EU, is cited as claiming the deal penned in January has “unfair defects”.
While earlier Johnson’s government did not have time to remedy the failings, Britain, claims the source, is now bringing the contentious issues to the negotiating table.
Despite a source close to the UK negotiating team being cited as conceding that recent talks were conducted on an overall “positive” note, in another glimpse behind the scenes, sources say the parleys were accompanied by a broadside targeting EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
The report comes as the fourth round of talks between London and Brussels ended on 5 June with a spate of recriminations against the UK for its refusal to accept EU demands and honour its commitments laid down in the Political Declaration, a 27-page document agreed upon by Boris Johnson and the EU last year as a guide to the negotiations on the future relationship, and linked to the Withdrawal Agreement.
“In all areas, the UK continues to backtrack on the commitments it has taken in the political declaration…We will not accept this backtracking on the political declaration,” said Barnier.
In response, a source was quoted as saying:
“The EU are unfairly characterising the Political Declaration… Establishing a framework is not the same as meaning everything must go in a legally binding treaty. Michel Barnier seems to think he is the referee when actually he is a player on the pitch.”
A government source was quoted as saying:
“Unfortunately we couldn’t fix every defect with the Withdrawal Agreement last autumn – we had to prioritise abolishing the backstop and getting Brexit done in the face of a Parliament that was trying to stop us. We’ll now have to do our best to fix it but we’re starting with a clear disadvantage.”
As an example of the “defects”, sources cite a problem over geographical indications (GIs), used to identify a product as originating in a particular country or region. The product’s quality, reputation and other characteristics are connected to its geographical origin. This refers to such iconic items as Scottish whisky and salmon.
As EU GIs are protected in the Withdrawal Agreement, while UK GIs are not, the UK negotiating team has suggested proposals seeking to achieve a more balanced arrangement laid down in the deal.
Amid accusations levelled at Brussels for “dragging its feet” over negotiations and imposing unfair demands on the UK (such as the contentious issue of access to its fishing waters and forcing the country to accept EU laws and the jurisdiction of the European Court), former cabinet minister Owen Paterson, chairman of the Centre for Brexit Policy thinktank, was quoted as saying:
“The EU continue to make ridiculous demands that they have never asked from other third countries when negotiating free trade agreements. They haven’t got their head round the fact that we are an independent country. The UK Government could not be clearer – there will not be an extension.”
Paterson added that it was likely that Brussels' stance would result in the UK trading and thriving under World Trade Organisation terms.
“The benefits Brexit offers us as a nation are absolutely crucial to rebuild our economy following the damage done by coronavirus,” underscored Paterson.
Despite the hurdles on the way to hammering out a deal with Brussels, Boris Johnson has been adamant that he will adhere to his pledge of ending the Brexit transition period even if there is no final deal before 31 December.
No Significant Progress
Friday saw another round of trade discussions between the European Union and the United Kingdom end without tangible signs of progress ahead of a looming deadline on whether a transition arrangement might be extended.
After four days of video discussions, due to the COVID-19 pandemic ruling out in-person talks, the two sides remained at loggerheads on a number of issues.
Another contentious issue - the positions on fisheries – is also reportedly far from being resolved.
“The truth is there was no significant progress this week,” said EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier at a press conference.
The UK left Brussels’ political institutions on 31 January, but remains inside the EU’s tariff-free economic zone until the end of the year.
That so-called transition period can be extended by two years but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly said he would not be seeking an extension.