“Hot fall” expected on brexit, negotiations on edge

After a corona summer in which the brexit area remained relatively quiet, the proportions are now back on edge. In an as yet unpublished bill, Prime Minister Boris Johnson seems to want to go back on previous agreements. “The risk of things going wrong is considerable,” says correspondent Tim de Wit.

All day long, an article from the Financial Times dominated the debate. That newspaper wrote this morning that the British government wants to introduce a bill that would conflict with the agreements made in the Treaty of Accession on Northern Ireland, state aid and customs duties.

Brexit expert Rem Korteweg of Clingendael Institute emphasizes that it is not yet clear what exactly is stated in the new bill. “Maybe the negotiations will be frozen until it is clear what the bill says, in an extreme scenario they could blow. We haven’t got that far yet,” he says. “But cooperation within and with the EU depends on making and keeping legal agreements.”

The timing of the British proposal is remarkable. The British formally left the European Union at the beginning of this year. There is now a transition period until the end of the year during which the British follow EU rules. In the meantime, the future relationship is being discussed. Tomorrow the talks will start again.

Ireland’s former Prime Minister Bertie Ahern fears the effect of the British bill. He was at the basis of the Good Friday Agreement, which put an end to the bloody conflict in Northern Ireland. “Anything that would bring the border back to the way it used to be would be a disaster.”

“We’ve often seen a grenade being thrown on the table first and when the dust clouds have risen, it’s still possible to talk further,” says De Wit. “It also surprises me that they cause such a storm between Brussels and London when they have to look for a compromise”

Do British people negotiate in good faith?

Little progress was made throughout the summer. “Negotiations were already going badly,” says Korteweg. “There was already frustration among EU negotiator Barnier. It seems as if the British are taking two steps backwards instead of forwards. That causes concern in the EU: are the British sitting at the table in good faith? It’s too early to say yes or no to that.”

But Korteweg also looks at the step from the British point of view. “They’re the junior party here, the questioning one. In such a situation you pretend to be bigger,” he says. “If you look at the rhetoric of the British, they also draw a smokescreen. They create uncertainty about what they’re going to do now, and hope that that makes the EU more lenient. What I find striking is that they’re apparently willing to throw their good name on the international stage into battle.”

Wednesday will see more on the British bill. De Wit expects the EU to look very closely at what the new British bill will look like. If that law touches the brexit agreements made, it will be seen as a gross violation of the agreements. “It would make it very difficult to see the British as reliable partners,” says the correspondent.

“If the EU finds that there is nothing to talk about with the British negotiators, that could well be the end of the negotiations,” De Wit expects. Even if it’s not good for both parties if the negotiations fail. “It would be a huge economic blow to all the countries on the North Sea.”

Risky game

“It’s a very risky game the British are playing,” says the correspondent. “They’re willing to go to extremes. The next few months will determine what the future will look like. Incidents like this don’t help in those negotiations. This is a riot, tomorrow they have to go back to the table.”

Korteweg agrees. “An agreement doesn’t come any closer this way,” he says. “But even if the talks fail and there’s a no deal, that’s not the end of the negotiations. The United Kingdom remains on the North Sea, so it is a phase in the talks. They don’t stop suddenly.”