A promising phone call between EU Council President Charles Michel and Joe Biden has heightened speculation that both Britain and the EU will seek some sort of compromise in Brexit talks as the deadline for Britain’s full departure approaches.
In the phone call, which saw Michel congratulate Biden on his victory in the presidential election, the two spoke about Britain’s Internal Market Bill, with Michel thanking Biden for his support for the ‘clear implementation’ of the Withdrawal Agreement which was concluded between the UK and the EU last year. The agreement which was agreed in part to preserve the peace and stability within Northern Ireland received backing from Biden who had warned that the Good Friday Agreement could not become a casualty of Brexit and that if it did, the UK would face difficulties in getting a trade agreement with a Biden led US.
Whilst the Prime Minister and his fellow ministers have repeatedly claimed that the Internal Market Bill is critical to ensuring that there is unfettered access for goods from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK and that it does still protect the Good Friday Agreement, others in Parliament have not been so sure. Indeed, the House of Lords has already defeated the Bill once before, though the government has said that they will reinstate the parts of the bill removed by the Lords, it does seem as though reality is slowly setting in.
Recent developments suggest that negotiators on both sides of the Channel are exploring the idea of review clauses that could be used to break the deadlock in talks, with the possibility that parts of the deal could be revisited several years after they take effect.
With the chance that talks could either return physically or remain virtual depending on the result of a few Covid tests, negotiators are trying to find ways to bridge the divides that clearly exist between both sides. One such way was over the issue of fishing. The UK proposed that the EU could retain part of its current quota for several years, which by necessity there would need to be negotiations on future arrangements.
Whilst a senior EU official had confirmed that the EU negotiating team was willing to consider the idea, they would only implement it if it were linked to the broader economic relationship. Doing so, the official argued would allow the EU to strip the UK of access to the European market if talks on fish turned sour.
However, as with everything that is to do with Brexit, it seems that the two sides disagree over just how long the temporary arrangement should last, with another sticking point being that Britain continues to insist that access to its waters should be subject to annual negotiation.
Despite this, it is believed that Britain still hopes that a trade deal could be reviewed after four years, which would enable both sides to re-establish tariffs on trade in goods if Britain no longer wants to abide by the terms of the level playing field in areas such as state aid, which all indications suggest they will not.
The EU however insists that it would never accept such a trade-off as they belief tariffs cannot replace the need for fair competition rules. They also point out that they could always invoke such penalties should Britain flout its commitments, as these powers are baked into the deal anyway.
Naturally, as the deadline of 31st December approaches, both the UK and EU will hope to find some common ground to secure a trade agreement. Especially as with his latest nomination for Secretary of State, Joe Biden is showing that he wants to move on from the discord of the Trump era. But given the way things have been for the last four years, doubts will remain over the certainty of a trade deal, likely until the last moment.