When did Great Britain achieve freedom?

EU and UKThe sticking points of the Brexit negotiations

Update (December 25th, 2020): The European Union and Great Britain have agreed on rules for future trade relations. Both sides were satisfied with what had been achieved. Because of the tight schedule for quick ratification, the treaty should come into force at least provisionally in January.

In the Brexit negotiations between the European Union and Great Britain there were three central points of contention: the future access of EU fishermen to British waters, the EU's demand for a level playing field - i.e. the same social, environmental and subsidy standards, in return for further access to the EU internal market - and a dispute settlement mechanism in the event of violations of the agreement.

What are the negotiations about?

The United Kingdom left the European Union on January 31, 2020. Both sides had previously negotiated a contract on the terms of this exit: the divorce agreement. For example, he stipulated what sums London still has to pay into the EU coffers and what rights the citizens of both sides have after leaving on the other side of the channel. In addition, a transition period was agreed until December 31, 2020, during which the relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU remains almost unchanged: London remains part of the EU internal market, the customs union and all treaties that the European Union has concluded. There is only one thing that London can no longer do within the transition period: help determine the fate of the EU. There are no longer any British MPs in the European Parliament, not even a British EU Commissioner. And British ministers no longer take part in the deliberations of the Council.

(Imago / Günther Ortmann) Elmar Brok: Great Britain has to give way when it comes to standards
Europe must guarantee the integrity of the internal market, said former EU parliamentarian Brok in the Dlf. For this there must be arbitration mechanisms as well as the same environmental and social standards.

This transition period was agreed so that both sides can negotiate an agreement that regulates relations between the EU and the British Isles after the transition period. This is not just about trade relations, but about a much more comprehensive package of agreements, which also determines, for example, cooperation in the field of transport, the fight against crime and terrorism and cooperation in foreign and defense policy.

What is the EU's negotiating goal?

The governments of the 27 EU member states have given their chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, a precise negotiating mandate. In it, London is offered a triple zero solution in the most important area of ​​negotiation, that of future trade relations: zero tariffs, zero quotas, zero dumping. This means that access to the EU internal market for British industrial goods would be more unlimited than for any other third country with which the EU has so far concluded trade agreements.

The condition for this unrestricted access - zero dumping - is tough. Because Brussels demands that London sign contractual agreements that stipulate that the United Kingdom does not create any unfair competitive advantages, for example by increasing state subsidies for companies, but lowering environmental protection and social standards. Brussels therefore demands an agreement on fair competition rules, a so-called level playing field.

(Francisco Seco / AP / dpa) EU chief negotiator Barnier: "The British do not understand that Brexit has consequences"
Before the fourth round of talks between the EU and Great Britain, Barnier misses realism in London. The British wanted the best of both worlds, he criticized in the Dlf.

What is the UK's negotiating goal?

London is also particularly interested in a free trade agreement that enables companies based on the island to export to the European internal market with as few hurdles as possible. London aims to remove all tariffs and quotas. But the UK government does not want to sign an agreement on the future conditions of competition.

The British government has also annoyed its European negotiating partners with its new Single Market Act. With this law, London wants to regulate trade within the entire United Kingdom, but it contradicts parts of the Brexit agreement and also violates international law. After the House of Lords refused to approve the law, the moment the ball is back with the House of Representatives. The whole thing could develop into a game of ping-pong between the two chambers.

(picture alliance / Yui Mok) Why the planned British internal market law is problematic
Even if the British House of Lords has not approved the government's Nine Internal Trade Act, it is not off the table. From the EU perspective, however, it contradicts parts of the Brexit agreement and undermines the government's credibility.

What does the election of Joe Biden as the new US president mean for the Brexit negotiations?

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had long hoped that Donald Trump would be re-elected as the next US President. He has never met the elected new President Joe Biden and until recently had not made any contact with his team, reports London correspondent Christine Heuer. Meanwhile, Johnson congratulated Biden on the win, saying the US was and will remain Britain's main partner.

Biden and his Democratic administration may well remember, however, that Johnson described ex-US President Barack Obama as a "half-Kenyan with an innate aversion to the British" because Obama was against Brexit. Biden also rejects Brexit. During the election campaign, he warned that Johnson was risking the peace in Northern Ireland with his internal market law. If this happens, Johnson could get a trade deal with the US out of his head.

In view of the election victory of EU sympathizer Biden, Johnson may consider at least changing the internal market law because it could endanger the Northern Irish peace process. The background to this is that Ireland has a large lobby with the US Democrats. She is putting pressure on Biden to get the internal market law to be cashed.

Dlf correspondent Heuer estimates that under a US President Biden things could be uncomfortable for Johnson and his previous Brexit policy. That, in turn, seems to increase his support for a Brexit deal with the EU. Johnson is now emphasizing - very unlike recently - that he has always been a big supporter of the deal and that a deal with the EU is about to be reached. The hardliners in Johnson's Conservative Party are still strictly against a Brexit deal.

Why is the "level playing field" so controversial?

One of the main arguments of the Brexit proponents was that the UK should regain full sovereignty over its laws. Against this background, competition rules, which are co-determined in Brussels and which the European Court of Justice, which is so hated on the island, would ensure that they are complied with, are unacceptable for London.

In addition to this idea of ​​sovereignty, there is also a solid economic reason: London fears that standards agreed with the EU will affect the trade agreements that the United Kingdom wants to conclude with other nations. An example: If the treaty with the EU excludes meat from hormone calves for consumer protection reasons, this would make a trade agreement with the USA more difficult, where the fattening of calves with hormones is part of everyday life. In addition, London repeatedly refers to the CETA free trade agreement that the EU has concluded with Canada. There are no strict stipulations on common competition rules, says the British government and draws the conclusion that the EU wants to treat the UK worse than Canada on trade issues.

Brussels rejects this. On the one hand, only extensive, but not complete, freedom from customs and quotas had been agreed with Canada. And on the other hand, the geographic location plays a role for the EU: the British island is - unlike Canada - so close to the European mainland that dumping, for example in terms of environmental and social standards, can have an impact very quickly. Namely, by European companies relocating their production to the island. The EU negotiators accuse the British side of not wanting to adhere to agreements that have been concluded. In Chapter 14 of the "Political Declaration", which was agreed together with the Withdrawal Agreement, it is stated that both sides will agree on a "Level Playing Field". And this "Political Declaration" also bears the signature of the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

And the EU side raises another accusation: London is cherry-picking. From all free trade agreements that the EU has ever concluded, the British side only selects the passages that are most advantageous for them in order to put them together into a new overall agreement. Such a "best-of contract" would open up all the advantages of the EU internal market to Great Britain without London wanting to share in the costs of the internal market and accept the freedom of movement for EU citizens.

A question that is at the center of what is supposed to be the final round of negotiations: How do you deal with breaches of contract by the other partner, should they occur? The clarification of this question can take years in normal free trade negotiations, here you have a total of seven months.

(dpa-Zentralbild) CDU foreign politician Polenz - No cherry-picking for Great Britain
In the negotiations between the EU and Great Britain there could be no compromises on fundamental freedoms, said CDU foreign policy expert Ruprecht Polenz in the Dlf.

What is the role of fisheries in the negotiations?

Unsurprisingly, the British government used the fishing rights as a lever in the negotiations. According to international law of the sea, a state is entitled to all fishing within the 200 miles of its exclusive economic zone. The EU has the right to fish in British territory, but it is distributed to other EU countries through fishing quotas. Hundreds of fishermen from France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Denmark depend on being able to fish in British territorial waters in the future. Otherwise they could scrap their trawlers.

(picture alliance / dpa / Daniel Kalker) Brexit agreement - negotiating quantity fish
The EU and Great Britain are trying to put their relationship on a new footing with an agreement after Brexit. The fishing rights are economically insignificant, but they have a high emotional value.

That is why Brussels is demanding a permanent agreement on fishing quotas for EU fishermen as part of the trade agreement. London strictly rejects this, again with reference to the newly acquired national sovereignty. Catch quotas could at best be renegotiated from year to year and they would have to be much lower than before, according to the British position. The EU, on the other hand, points out that British fishermen are already selling most of their catch on the EU's internal market. But that can only stay that way if the EU gets permanent fishing rights in British waters.

Dossier Brexit (Deutschlandradio / imago / Jürgen Schwarz)

Why are the talks under such great time pressure?

The resignation agreement provides for the possibility of extending the transition phase once or for two years. This could save additional time for negotiations. Boris Johnson ruled that out in the last election campaign. He even had a law passed prohibiting the British government, that is, himself, from applying for an extension. This means that the entire contract package must be wrapped up by the end of 2020.

It was planned that an agreement between London and Brussels would be in place by the end of October 2020. This should ensure that the national parliaments can ratify the deal on time by December 31, 2020. Then the EU gave the weekend of 14./15. November as the goal for the end of the negotiations, after which a proper ratification is no longer possible. But the negotiations continue (as of December 7, 2020). Neither the EU nor the UK have announced a new deadline.

The EU summit on December 10th is considered a possible deadline. If no agreement has been reached by then, it will hardly be possible formally. Finally, the text of the treaty also has to be translated into all 23 official languages, legally checked and then ratified by the European Parliament.

What if the negotiations fail?

If there is no agreement, both sides would have to conduct their trade according to the rules of the World Trade Organization. Although these rules serve to simplify the exchange of goods between countries, they still contain significantly more hurdles than a free trade agreement. For example, they contain many different rates of duty for different groups of goods.

The consequences would be foreseeable: trucks would jam because of customs controls, supply chains of companies that are still producing on both sides of the canal would be hampered. More serious than that would be the political damage that would be caused by the failure of the negotiations. According to experts, there would be a political ice age between the two sides.

In Brussels, however, there are apparently also considerations to ignore the deadline set by the United Kingdom for a trade agreement, January 1st. The British could be blamed for the resulting chaos in trade, it said. "If it doesn't work out on January 1st, that doesn't mean it won't work out on January 15th or April 1st or July 1st," said EU diplomatic circles.