If It’s A Good Party, No-One Leaves Early

Brexit talks break up and Frost leaves Brussels a day early. So are these ‘trade negotiations’ now no more than a sham?

Yesterday lunchtime the UK’s Chief Negotiator, David Frost, decided there was no point in continuing the trade talks with the EU which were supposed to have continued through until noon today. He and his team left Brussels and returned to London.

This was the first round of the new “intensified talks” which are scheduled to continue throughout July. It lasted just 20 hours, including the niceties. Only four hours were spent on actual negotiations about trade in goods and services.

As usual, once the talks had concluded, statements were issued by both sides. For the first time, however, Michel Barnier decided not to hold one of his very long press conferences. His statement was also many times shorter than the usual rambling monologue to which journalists and the public have been treated in the past.

David Frost’s statement was as positive as he could manage

“We have completed our discussion of the full range of issues in the negotiation in just over three days. Our talks were face to face for the first time since March and this has given extra depth and flexibility to our discussion. The negotiations have been comprehensive and useful. But they have also underlined the significant differences that still remain between us on a number of important issues. We remain committed to working hard to find an early understanding on the principles underlying an agreement out of the intensified talks process during July, as agreed at the HLM on 15 June. Talks will continue next week in London as agreed in the revised terms of reference published on 12 June.”

Barnier’s statement had the usual whiff of desperation about it

“This week, David Frost and I continued our discussions, together with a restricted number of experts on each side. As agreed two weeks ago at the High-Level Meeting between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Presidents Ursula von der Leyen, David Sassoli and Charles Michel, the EU sought to inject new dynamics in the talks.

“Our goal was to get negotiations successfully and quickly on a trajectory to reach an agreement. However, after four days of discussions, serious divergences remain.

“The EU side had listened carefully to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statements in recent weeks, in particular, his request to reach a political agreement quickly, and his red lines: no role for the European Court of Justice in the UK; no obligation for the UK to continue to be bound by EU law; and an agreement on fisheries that shows Brexit makes a real difference. [We keep our fish].

“The EU engaged constructively, as we had already done during the fourth round of negotiations in June. We did so in line with the mandate entrusted to the European Commission by the Council, with the support of the European Parliament.

“The EU’s position remains [desperate], based on the Political Declaration, that there will be no economic partnership without 1 robust guarantees for a level playing field – including on state aid – to ensure open and fair competition among our businesses; 2 a balanced, sustainable and long-term solution for our European fishermen and women; 3 an overarching institutional framework and effective dispute settlement mechanisms. And we will continue to insist on parallel progress on all areas.

“The EU expects, in turn, its positions to be better understood and respected in order to reach an agreement. We need an equivalent engagement by the United Kingdom. We continue to believe that an agreement is possible and in everyone’s interest. We look forward to the next round of negotiations in the week of 20 July. In the meantime, and as agreed, we will continue our discussions in London next week.”

The translation of this is, in essence “Look, we’ve told you what we demand of you. We will be obeyed. Anything else means you are either stupid or wilfully disrespectful of the all-powerful European Union”. Crackers, or what?

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