EU Leaders To Insist On Tough Enforcement Powers In Brexit: FT.I


Last Thursday, European Union leaders met in Brussels to discuss enforcement for a prospective Brexit trade deal, skeptical of United Kingdom promises. Chief Brexit negotiator Micheal Barnier was expected to ensure support for “level playing field” guarantees through the same rights enabling E.U. retaliation against Britain if they breach previous commitments. Impatient with stalled talks last month, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson threatened to override January’s Brexit agreement unless a new one was reached by 15 October.

According to Deutsche Welle, despite this deadline’s passing, Barnier said “[T]he negotiations are not over” and that the E.U. “shall remain available until the last possible day.” One key concern was by France and other E.U. fishing bodies for preserving quota rights in British waters. In a joint statement, E.U. leaders said the U.K. needed “to make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible.” Chief U.K. negotiator David Frost expressed surprise that “to get an agreement all future moves must come” by the U.K. and called it an “unusual approach.” Although negotiations should continue until the transition period’s official ending on 31 December, both sides have expressed needed preparedness for a possible no-deal Brexit. 

Initially asserting “[I]n no case shall our fisherman be sacrificed for Brexit,” on Friday French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged that access to British waters will change following the Brexit transition. Facing increased pressure from fishermen fearing loss of lucrative access to English waters, he maintained that “We are ready, but not at any price.”

Responding to demands for fishing access and a “trade-off”, Boris Johnson threatened to walk away from talks unless the E.U. makes a “fundamental change in approach.” A spokesman for Johnson also said “trade talks are over,” blaming the E.U. for ending them because “they do not want to change their negotiating position.” According to The Daily Express, German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted that the E.U. is “ready to compromise.” She also claimed to accept Britain’s diverging from the “rulebook”, as long as the E.U. can “react quickly” to unfair competition. “Both sides need to make a move towards each other,” Merkel concluded.  

President Macron is understandably dissatisfied with impending changes to French access in British waters. However, respect should be given to British sovereignty and Britain’s desire for greater control of their territory. While Macron said the U.K. had “more to lose” without a deal, he should recall the stakes for France and the rest of the E.U. According to BBC News, about 75% of the U.K. fish supply is sold to the E.U.

Most of Britain’s fish is also imported from the E.U. However, beyond contentions over fishing access and state aid, both parties must remember that in the absence of a deal, they will be subject to World Trade Organization regulations. This will increase taxes on E.U. products like cars to 10% and dairy provisions to 35%, causing the U.K. to impose similar tariffs. Along with the impact of tariffs, both factions should recall the economic damage wrought by the covid-19 pandemic, and consider how a no-deal Brexit may further intensify ongoing hardships. As the gridlock persists, time diminishes. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s suggestion that both sides accept compromise was an appropriate effort to pacify tension, and encourage continued negotiations 

Brexit talks have continued since Britain officially left the E.U. on 31 January. After their departure, both parties agreed to an 11-month period in which to develop a new trade deal. Despite an opportunity until 30 June to extend this deadline, U.K. Cabinet Office Minister Micheal Grove declared Britain’s rejection, concluding “the moment for an extension has now passed.”

The fishing rights controversy traces back to 1970 when Britain joined the European Economic Community. Originally comprised of six members, they all agreed to a common fisheries policy, forcing the U.K. to provide equal access to their waters. According to The Guardian, due to quotas based on recorded catches of various national fleets between 1973 and 1978, “unpalatable outcomes” ensued. Consequently, E.U. fishing fleets currently catch 675,000 tons of fish in British waters, comprising 60% of the U.K. sector. On the other hand, British fishermen catch 88,000 tons of fish in E.U. waters, which translates to only 16% percent of their supply.

Negotiations for a Brexit agreement have not significantly progressed. In addition to fishing rights and “level playing field” concerns, Boris Johnson must carefully consider the implications of a no-deal Brexit for border checks, particularly with regard to Northern Ireland. According to ABC News, residents living in the area surrounding Sevington reported bulldozers, trucks, and other construction activities taking place to build a border between the U.K. and E.U. Both factions must recall the costly implications of a no-deal Brexit and should align with Angela Merkel’s call for compromise. They should not overlook the potential benefits of an agreement, due to lesser preferred concessions that appear discouraging.