The main points of tension inherent in Brexit, namely the free movement of people across the Channel and avoiding a border between the two Irelands, were resolved in the withdrawal agreement adopted in extremis a year ago. The transition period, which runs till the end of December, was supposed to settle everything else. So, what is still stuck?
Mainly three issues. First, the two sides are unable to agree on the terms of fair competition. The British government still considers that the EU is not giving it enough leeway to restore the UK’s sovereignty. For example, the UK will be unable to determine its own legal regime for state aid. The UK is calling for an agreement on the model of the EU-Canada Ceta accord, which provides for some regulatory cooperation and thus entails a fairly close relationship between the two parties. Except that the British are calling for more privileged access than Canada to the European internal market – with zero customs duties in particular. But Brussels feels entitled to refuse this if London does not agree to far-reaching regulatory alignment through harmonised health, environmental and workplace standards.
Conversely, the EU considers that it can keep the UK in its orbit because of the UK’s status as a former member state, and impose a stronger regulatory alignment on it than on other partner countries. However, in the mind of Boris Johnson, and especially of his special adviser Dominic Cummings, the free trade “Global Britain” that they want to build is a state like any other, without any special links to the European Union. Given the different framing of the issue on either side of the Channel, the two sides are finding it hard to engage in a constructive dialogue.
The second sticking point, where the EU has more to lose than the UK, is fisheries. London, which is seeking to regain control of its territorial waters, recently reached an agreement with Norway that gives each side access to the other’s fishing zones and sets quotas that will be reviewed annually. It advocates such an agreement with Europe, which Brussels refuses.
The last point of tension relates to governance issues, particularly the role of the EU Court of Justice in interpreting the future agreement and the fine detail of regulatory alignment. The EU wants the Court’s decisions to be binding on London, while the UK rules out any interference by the Court that could restrict its sovereignty.
The ongoing adoption by the British parliament of an “internal market” law, introduced in mid-September, seems to have shattered the trust between the two parties. What exactly does the law consist of?
This law is intended to leave the new Northern Ireland trade regime to the discretion of the UK alone. It is a breach of the withdrawal agreement conclu