Business & Economy

Brexit talks on hold amid possibility of extension to transition

By Guillermo Ximenis

London, Mar 19 (efe-epa).- Brexit negotiations, which until a few days ago was the most important event concerning the future of the United Kingdom’s economy, remain paralyzed in the face of the pressing coronavirus crisis, amid speculations about the transition period being extended beyond Dec. 31.

The second round of talks between London and Brussels was scheduled to begin this week to finalize the details of the future relationship between the two sides. However, both parties have opted to postpone it.

The British government has stressed it remains committed to the deadline for reaching an agreement, although there are voices questioning its feasibility and suggesting that the possibility of an extension in the coming months.

Both teams have considered continuing the talks via videoconferencing, but for now this path has not been opted for.

Late Wednesday, legal drafts were exchanged on officials expected to work on this issue. A British government spokesperson said they were expecting more contacts next week, but did not give details.

Beyond the difficulties of negotiating face-to-face, the new trade relationship expected to be established will require substantial changes in the way businesses, both British and European, operate, and any such adaptation becomes more complicated in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Moreover, the epidemic has consumed resources in virtually all British government ministries, making it difficult for them to devote the efforts required for a broad and complex negotiation.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesperson refuted claims that the government was considering extending the deadline, although several officials have told the Financial Times newspaper that the date Dec. 31 no longer seemed as immovable as before.

“If we can’t continue talks properly then we are in a different world,” a senior government official told the said newspaper.

The agreement to leave the EU, which was approved by both the British Parliament and the European Parliament, stipulates that Johnson must decide in June whether to call for an extension of the transition period, the period in which the UK remains linked to the structures of the EU.

In case there is no agreement signed on a new bilateral relationship or an extension by the Dec. 31 deadline, without having signed a new bilateral relationship or extension, a scenario will emerge similar to that of a Brexit without any agreement, threatening to damage economies on both sides of the English channel.

Despite difficulties in proceeding ahead, the British government has stressed on its willingness to consider alternative ways to continue the dialog and explore more flexible structures for negotiations.

“We’re confident that we can get this done and, actually, I don’t think delaying Brexit negotiations would give anyone the certainty on either side of the Channel that they need,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said in the House of Commons.

In the corridors of the Palace of Westminster, seat of the Parliament, officials have been considering the possibility of making the negotiation a continuous dialog through telematic methods, instead of depending on periodic meetings.

The initial plan was to hold meetings every two weeks in London and Brussels, alternatively, and on Mar. 2, EU negotiator Michel Barnier and UK’s David Frost sat face to face for the first time.

This first meeting served to discuss the significant differences with which the contacts were initiated, particularly in aspects such as the fishing rights of EU members in British waters and the rules that the UK must follow to ensure fair competition.

The future agreement will need to include not only aspects such as merchandise exchange and tariff arrangements, but also other key issues such as access by financial services firms, aviation rights and aspects of shared security. EFE-EPA


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