Brexit trade deal with EU on the brink of collapse as Brussels ‘won’t change its stance’

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The Prime Minister successfully renegotiated key parts of Theresa May’s doomed withdrawal agreement with the European Union towards the end of last year, including small amendments to the Irish backstop, an issue that was a thorn in the side of the former leader’s chances of getting her deal through the UK parliament. Boris Johnson had no such problems, using the Conservative Party’s huge 80-seat majority gained in December’s general election to get his amended withdrawal agreement voted through by MPs and deliver on his promise to “get Brexit done” on January 31. The UK and EU trade talks got underway in March, but any post-Brexit agreement is already under serious threat of collapse.

Both sides have traded vicious blows and insults over each other’s respective negotiating stances, with huge cracks widening from bitter disagreements over a number of crucial demands being made in the post-Brexit agreement.

The Prime Minister continues to insist he wants a trade deal signed with Brussels before the end of the transition period and is refusing to ask for an extension beyond the December 31 deadline.

This has added even more tension to proceedings and infuriated the EU, with Brussels warning the tight deadline leaves no time to get a comprehensive deal in place.

Following the latest round of negotiations, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost warned the EU and his counterpart Michel Barnier to change their stance in a number of areas before the next round of talks on June 1.

But Professor Alex de Ruyter, Director of the Centre for Brexit Studies at Birmingham City University, has issued a chilling warning to Mr Johnson’s and his negotiating team.

He told Express.co.uk: “Will the EU change its current position? This presupposes that both sides have equal bargaining power. They don’t.

“The UK is a middle-sized economy with about 65 million people. The EU is a trade bloc with a population of about 450 million. So no, I don’t expect the EU to change their stance.

“If we look at the key areas of disagreement; fisheries and so-called ‘level playing field’ provisions.

“Fishing (whilst a totemic issue for the UK, despite its trivial economic contribution at about 0.01 percent of our GDP) is also equally totemic for EU countries with equally strong maritime traditions; the Netherlands, France, Spain, Denmark, for example.

“Regarding the EU insisting on the UK abiding by level playing field provisions around, for example, labour laws, state aid, and environmental standards etc.

“This is an existential issue for the EU in that an ex-member state cannot be seen to extract favourable concessions on Single Market access, least other EU countries such as Poland and Hungary kick-off and start demanding similar treatment.

“At that point, the whole Single Market really could unravel.”

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Tim Bale, Deputy Director of the UK in a Changing Europe think tank and Professor of Politics at the Queen Mary University of London, said that while the EU could relent on some aspects of the trade deal, Brussels will not start handing out favourable terms to a country that is no longer a member state.

He told this website: “This is a negotiation – the EU will make concessions in some areas, maybe even on something contentious like fishing.

“But what it won’t compromise on is the principle that you don’t get to enjoy most of the benefits of belonging to the EU once you’re no longer a member state.”

Alistair Jones, Associate Professor for the Department of Politics, People and Place at De Montfort University in Leicester, added: “The EU have been very clear that they are sticking to the documentation, such as the political declaration, signed off by the UK and the EU.

“That cannot be changed, despite British requests to do so.”

But Professor Jones also warned the “fanciful demands” from the UK in trade negotiations are threatening any deal actually being signed at all.

He added: “The EU has been its usual legalistic self. Noting the need to aggregate the position of 27 countries into a common negotiating position, there was never going to be much room for flexibility.

“The UK’s position has been the typical British exceptionalism, where Frost has adopted the Johnson approach of expecting the EU to bow down to the UK demands.

“As an example, the UK wants to have input into any future application by a third party to join the EU, and for the EU to take into consideration UK interests in any such negotiations. This goes beyond audacious.

“The UK has refused point-blank to let the ECJ (European Court of Justice) have any role in the UK post-Brexit, but expects the EU to bow down to such fanciful demands.”

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