The term ‘crucial’ has long since lost its meaning in the particular Brexit dictionary. During the divorce negotiations it was used ad nauseam. And the same is happening now with the talks in which London and Brussels try to close a trade deal. But the truth is that yes, that starting this week, we enter a “crucial” phase. And it is not due to political promises or deadlines that they like to impose so much on the protagonists and then skip them, but because we are entering the final countdown.
The United Kingdom, which legally left the bloc on January 31, will actually leave on December 31. And that is a fact. There is no going back, or possible calendar extensions. There is barely a month left (with Christmas in between) to consummate the historic divorce. And the trade agreement is conspicuous by its absence. Without a pact, relations would be based solely on the guidelines of the World Trade Organization, that is, with quotas and tariffs that, in the short and medium term, would damage the economies, already quite affected by the covid-19 pandemic.
Management of the health crisis, by the way, is dramatically undermining Boris Johnson’s authority both outside and within his own ranks. The rebel “Tories” see social restrictions as undermining civil liberties and further damaging the economy. So a revolt is not ruled out this week, when the new measures that will be imposed when the current confinement imposed in England ends on Wednesday.
The weakness in his leadership does not exactly help the British prime minister in the negotiations with Brussels. To calm the spirits in his ranks, he insists that he will not strike a deal at any cost.
So are we heading for a tough economic Brexit? Nobody is interested in such an outcome. But to this day we still have no progress. The script has not changed. Brussels warns that to have access to the single market, certain requirements must be met. And London responds that it already owns its sovereignty and is not willing to remain as a satellite state. The technical discussions would have already given their all. The political momentum is now lacking. But governance, fair competition and fishing remain the top three stumbling blocks.
The community negotiator, Michel Barnier, and his British counterpart, David Frost, have been holding meetings in the British capital since last Saturday. However, there is still no hint of white smoke.
Foreign Minister Dominic Raab yesterday rejected the latest offer from Brussels that it could accept a cut of between 15 and 18% in its share of fishing rights in British waters: ‘Does that sound good? 18% of the control of fishing in our own waters. That cannot be correct, “reflected the Foreign Minister.
Although the fishing industry represents only about 0.1% of UK GDP, its political weight is key, as the perception that British fishermen have been harmed by community arrangements was one of the arguments put forward by Eurosceptics.
Brussels wants to avoid opening a new distribution of quotas that would lead to clashes between EU countries, while London requires each year to negotiate mutual access to territorial waters, the total amount of fishing allowed and the quotas assigned to each State.
In the absence of progress, Johnson also has to deal with those threatened within his party by his management in the face of the pandemic. Around 80 rebellious “Tories” are currently rejecting the controversial plan that will subject the different areas of the country to rules of three levels of risk (medium, high and very high), depending on the incidence of the coronavirus.
That strategy would begin to work from Wednesday, when the current four-week confinement that began on November 5 ends, although it must be previously voted on in Parliament tomorrow.
In order to prevent the umpteenth internal rebellion among the “Tories”, Boris Johnson yesterday wrote to his ranks promising an “expiration date” to the plan of February 3. In the letter, which was collected by British Sundays, the “premier” indicated that the rules could be relaxed this December and that they would vote on it again in January 2021. The conservative leader affirms that he believes that next Easter there will be “a real possibility of returning to something like normality. It warns, however, that there would be “disastrous consequences” for the public health system (NHS) if the government does not introduce this new system of three-tiered restrictions when the lockdown ends. 99% of England will have to comply with the two strictest levels of standards – high risk and very high risk – with strong restrictions in the hospitality sector. In high-end areas like Manchester, indoor and outdoor social gatherings will remain prohibited and bars and restaurants that do not serve take out will remain closed.