In one sense, the economic impact of the corona pandemic is helpful to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson: the depth and scope of the flash recession are such that any fallout from the country’s imminent departure from the European Union will seem trivial by comparison. Nobody could have foretold that Brexit’s doom component would be overshadowed by an even darker cloud.
The negotiations over a post-departure trade deal between the European Union and its wayward neighbour have also been eclipsed by the pandemic. Those talks are not progressing smoothly. A stalemate beckons with the UK possibly dropping deeper into the abyss.
There are a great many stumbling blocks but the most formidable one remains the status of Northern Ireland which is supposed to remain in the union for all practical intents and purposes with a new trade barrier emerging between the six counties and the British mainland. This is to become the EU’s external border. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement that re-established the peace in Northern Ireland precludes any checks along the border with Ireland proper.
Whilst the pandemic rages, talks between Brussels and London have been conducted by video conference with both parties now and again publicly expressing their frustration. EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier complained that his counterpart asks for a ‘Canada-style’ trade deal only to add a shopping list of demands to their initial request.
For their part, the British team says that the EU fails to display a measure of pragmatism, tabling demands that cross the great many red lines laid down by Prime Minister Johnson. One of those British no-no’s involves the European Court of Justice (ECJ). London does not wish to be subjected to its rulings. That seems fair enough at first glance. However, the addenda to an off-the-self barebones trade deal, such as the one requested by the UK, pries open access to the EU’s common market – the union’s most prized asset. That, the EU insists, requires ECJ oversight and adjudication of the inevitable disputes that will arise.
Whilst almost nobody was looking, the talks bogged down and a trade deal seems unlikely to emerge before the end of the transition period on 31 December. In Brussels, few seem to care. Officials are busy putting the finishing touches on a major initiative to help member states deal with the Corona Recession. Brexit is yesterday’s news. The EU has moved on. The UK may wish to do so too: it is time for that buccaneering spirit and British pluck we heard so much about to put in an appearance.0