There is yet another Brexit deadline in sight, and an agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom does not seem to be within reach for the time being. There should be a Brexit deal on 31 October, so that the European Parliament has time to deal with the agreement before the British finally break all ties with the EU on 31 December. Today, an EU summit with Heads of Government will start in Brussels, where Brexit is also on the agenda.
To increase the pressure on negotiations, Prime Minister Johnson set his own deadline last month on October 15, today. If there were no agreement, he said, he would no longer expect an agreement and would stop the negotiations.
“ With that statement Johnson wanted to be tough,” says correspondent Tim de Wit in the CCEit Radio 1 Journal. “Show to his supporters that he does not let himself be messed with. However, he has become famous lately by setting deadlines that he subsequently fails to comply with. Last year he said that he would rather end up in a ditch than postpone Brexit again, and then postpone Brexit again.”
Johnson has now heard from his negotiator David Frost that there is still a prospect of an agreement within two weeks, says De Wit. “Frost will advise him not to pull the plug yet. Johnson seems to be bowing along with that advice.”
Bomb under negotiation
Johnson achieved a victory in the House of Commons last month, where a large majority agreed to a bill contrary to the agreements made with the EU. The Prime Minister is particularly concerned that Northern Ireland must continue to comply with EU rules, so that the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland can remain open.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen expressed concerns about the bill and said that the law would violate international law. According to De Wit, the bill makes it clear that Johnson is on a collision course. “He thinks the EU should move its way.”
Decision after EU summit
The British Prime Minister told Von der Leyen yesterday that he was disappointed at the progress made in the talks over the last two weeks. According to his spokesman, after the EU summit, he will decide on the progress of the negotiations: “The Prime Minister is looking forward to the outcome of the European Council and will consider it before announcing the next steps of the UK.”
De Wit thinks Johnson will get away with ignoring his own deadline again. “There is another corona wave and Brexit has not been on the front pages in Britain for a long time, so he can afford not to stick to it. There is also plenty of time: the new relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom should not enter into force until 1 January.”
However, there are still two persistent bottlenecks in the negotiations. “The most important thing is fishing: economically it is hardly anything, but politically it is very sensitive. The Dutch and French fishermen want to have the same access to British waters after Brexit, which the British consider unquestionable. Secondly, there is the level playing field of rules. The EU says that if you want to keep access to our market, you must follow our rules. The British do not want that.”
So much depends on what is discussed at the EU summit. “The Heads of Government will have to decide whether they are willing to do something, or continue to act hard with the chance that everything will go wrong.”