Matthew Taylor

Sunday shows round-up: Does the EU have the ‘political will’ to do a deal?

Sunday shows round-up: Does the EU have the ‘political will’ to do a deal?
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Dominic Raab: The ‘bar is quite high’ for EU trade talks to continue

Today had been marked out as the critical deadline date by which a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU must be substantially agreed, or else there would be no deal. A discussion between Boris Johnson and the EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was scheduled for this lunchtime to try to thrash out the last minute disagreements. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab joined Andrew Marr, and told him that trade talks could continue beyond the end of the day, but only if the political discussion was fruitful:

AM: If we don't get an agreement by the end of today... are we out without a deal?

DR: It depends... What really matters is the political will. Will the EU move on the two key issues - the 'level playing field'... and fisheries?... The bar is quite high for us to be able to keep talking. We would need a political level commitment to move on those two issues.

Ursula von der Leyen: It is responsible to ‘go the extra mile’

At 11.45 a.m., Ursula von der Leyen gave a press conference to tell the world that, after her phone call with Boris Johnson, Brexit negotiations would indeed be continuing:

UVDL: Despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over, we both think that it is responsible at this point in time to go the extra mile. We have accordingly mandated our negotiators to continue the talks, and to see whether an agreement can be reached, even at this late stage.

Raab: The EU ‘has shifted the goalposts’...

Marr went on to challenge Raab over a number of assertions made by the Vote Leave side during the referendum campaign and since then by Boris Johnson, including an assertion last year that the chances of a no deal Brexit were ‘a million to one against’. Raab responded by arguing that the EU had reneged on its previous promise of a ‘Canada-style’ free trade deal:

DR: The EU has shifted the goalposts. We were told at the outset that a Canada-style agreement was available... The common sense win-win in the [Canada style agreement] is still there to be done, and it is not the UK that has not shown flexibility and pragmatism.

...France would have ‘zero assured access’ to UK waters in no deal outcome...

Marr asked about the UK’s plans to enforce its nautical borders against fishermen from EU countries if there is a no deal Brexit. The affair has attracted controversy after government plans to deploy Royal Navy vessels were unveiled. Raab assured Marr that there was no intention to escalate matters any further than necessary:

DR: We will adhere to all the rules of international laws... to make sure that we can enforce, in a proportionate way, our fisheries... If we leave without a free trade deal [the French] will have zero assured access to our fisheries.

...UK will have 'third party relationship' with Europol...

Marr asked Raab about what Brexit would mean for the UK's ability to fight crime across international borders. In particular, he cited the potential loss of access to Europol and its intelligence on counterterrorism and criminal gangs:

DR: Come what may, when we leave the EU transition period... we will not be a member of Europol or Eurojust. We would have a third party relationship... The big win for us is control over our own borders... so entry into the UK and the ability to deport foreign national offenders.

...EU worried that UK 'might do rather well' after Brexit...

Niall Paterson filled in for Sophy Ridge this week, and he also discussed today's crucial Brexit talks with Raab. Raab offered Paterson his theory as to why the EU was determined to drive such a hard bargain:

DR: We want to be treated like any other independent, self-respecting democracy... I think the EU is concerned that actually Britain might do rather well once we leave... and is worried about the competitive advantage, even on the normal global rules that apply.

...People need 'time with their loved ones'...

Paterson also asked Raab about the government's plans for a 'Christmas bubble' policy between the 23rd and 27th of December, which would lift travel restrictions in order for people to see their families. Raab confirmed that the government was pressing ahead with the policy despite the risk that the rate of Covid infections could rise as a result:

DR: I think people do need that 5 day window over Christmas to spend a bit of time with their loved ones, and I think at a mental health level and an emotional level, people do need it... That's why we've got the tiered approach, buttressed by mass community testing.

Ed Miliband: No deal is ‘a disastrous outcome’...

Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband had a bone to pick with Boris Johnson over the Prime Minister’s claim on Friday that a no deal Brexit could be ‘wonderful for the UK’:

EM: What the government seems to be saying is, ‘we are willing to accept no deal’, which would mean tariffs across the board, because of some future theoretical threat... maybe to have tariffs on some products... I say no deal is a disastrous outcome for the country. It's not a ‘wonderful outcome’, and it’s a disgrace frankly, that Boris Johnson said it.

...and Labour is ‘minded’ to support government's Brexit deal

Despite his previous assertion, Miliband still held out on Labour's pledge that they would not necessarily support a trade agreement when and if it reached the Commons, much to Marr’s bemusement:

AM: If Boris Johnson comes to the House of Commons next week with a deal, he can guarantee Labour’s support...?

EM: We'll look at the detail...

AM: ...You’ve just said no deal is the worst possible outcome!...

EM: We've said we’re minded to support it.

Arancha González: Spain wants EU to ‘work for a deal’...

Paterson also interviewed the Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya, who told him that Spain is very much hoping for a deal with the UK:

AG: From a political point of view for Spain, it's much better to end with a deal... We think it's going to be better for both of us. We are already suffering from a huge impact of the pandemic, and Brexit would just be a double whammy... We've told the EU negotiator to work for a deal

...‘I don’t understand’ why we can't agree on fishing...

Gonzalez told Paterson that it baffled her as to why the UK was putting such emphasis on its fishing industry in the negotiations:

AG: I just don't understand why we cannot agree to agree on fishing. Fishing in the UK is 6,000 vessels, employing 12,000 workers in the UK. That's the size of the magnitude of the problem.

...and we want to avoid hard border in Gibraltar

And finally, Gonzalez highlighted Gibraltar as a reason for Spain's support for a deal:

AG: Our duty is to find a deal that would help us build an area of shared prosperity around Gibraltar... We’ve worked very hard to reach an agreement with the UK as regards mobility in and around the area... Without an agreement... the external border of the European Union will be in Gibraltar, and we want to avoid that.