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Britain officially left the European Union on January 31, with the focus now turning firmly to the trading relationship between the two respective sides during a series of virtual meetings brought on by the current coronavirus pandemic. The UK and EU trade talks in March – led by Boris Johnson’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost and Brussels counterpart Mr Barnier. But talks have descended into chaos, with both sides trading vicious insults over each other’s negotiating strategies and demands for what should be included in any future trade deal.
Key areas such as the level playing field, state aid, tax and access to the single market all still remain unresolved – with no solution in sight.
Tensions have intensified further with the UK continuing to insist a trade deal ,must be signed before the end of the transition period on December 31, 2020.
Last week, Mr Barnier wrote to the leaders of UK opposition political parties stating the EU is open to the idea of extending the transition period by up to two years.
The EU and Mr Barnier have now been accused of preparing their ground for a possible “blame game” with the offer of a delay to the transition period – should trade talks with the UK completely collapse.
Commenting on Mr Barnier’s letter, Alistair Jones, associate professor in politics and a university teacher fellow at De Montfort University, told Express.co.uk: “This is a canny move by Barnier. It is not about getting the UK to stay in the EU but more about trying to retain the relationship between the EU and the UK to enable a deal to be done.
“If the UK leaves on 31 December 2020 without a deal in place, both the EU and the UK will suffer serious economic harm – the UK far more. A deal will be mutually beneficial.
“The problem is some issues are phenomenally difficult to resolve – fisheries, environmental standards to name a couple.
“These could never be resolved in a single year. They interlink with too many other issues. Resolving them is the best way forward, but this takes time.
“Making the gesture of extending the transition period for up to two years gives the UK Government the fig leaf of it being “them asking us” rather than the other way around. These are optics to help Johnson, should he so wish.”
Wyn Grant, a Political Scientist and Professor of Politics at the University of Warwick, believes Mr Barnier’s letter shows the EU desperately wants a trade deal with the UK, but also shows the “EU is also preparing its ground for the inevitable blame game”.
He told this website: “The EU would like an agreement, hence the Barnier letter, and thinks that this is not possible given the wide gulf between the two sides, the limited time available and the distraction created by COVID-19 which is the EU’s number one priority now in terms of restarting the European economy.
“The EU is also preparing its ground for the inevitable blame game.”
Commenting on Mr Barnier’s letter last week, Professor Alex de Ruyter, Director of the Centre for Brexit Studies at Birmingham City University, added: “It is an offer. I wouldn’t read any more into it than that.
“Barnier wants to show that he has done everything possible to clinch a deal. If talks fall through, he wants to show that he isn’t responsible for that.”
Last week, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator wrote to the Westminster leaders of the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Green Party and Alliance Party, and said the option of an extension to the transition period is available if the UK wants it.
These party leaders had previously written to Mr Barnier on May 15 calling for a two-year extension to be agreed between the UK and EU.
Mr Barnier wrote in his letter: “I remain keen on and interested in hearing the views of the British political parties and stakeholders in order to appreciate all dimensions of the national debate.
“The European Union remains determined to build a new and ambitious partnership with the United Kingdom in the short time that is available, given your Government’s repeated statements that it will not agree to an extension of the transition period.
“I take note on your views of a possible extension to the transition period.
“Such an extension of up to one or two years can be agreed jointly by the two parties.
“The European Union has always said that we remain open on this matter.”
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