Thursday marks the beginning of a two-day European Council summit where – Brussels had hoped, at least – a trade deal between the UK and its 27 EU allies could be reviewed and placed on the road to ratification (remember, every individual member state’s parliament must approve the deal eventually).
Unfortunately, that probably isn’t going to happen. Little progress has been made between the UK and EU27 on disputes about state subsidies, and access to fishing waters. UK negotiator Lord David Frost recently told the British press that while little progress has been made on fisheries access, the two sides are “slowly” moving toward a compromise on subsidies, Bloomberg reports.
And now, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, a critical player in the talks has removed herself from the summit after an aide tested positive for COVID-19.
I have just been informed that a member of my front office has tested positive to COVID-19 this morning. I myself have tested negative.
However as a precaution I am immediately leaving the European Council to go into self-isolation.
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) October 15, 2020
Boris Johnson has reportedly expressed ‘disappointment’ over von der Leyen’s sudden absence, seeing it as an inexcusable obstacle to progress.
Fortunately, the “deadline” for the trade talks has been slowly retreating like Jude Law’s hairline. EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier has confirmed that the trade negotiations will continue, despite the Oct. 15 deadline. Barnier said his team would travel to London for another round of talks next week, while the Brits would travel to Brussels the week after, as the latest “deadline” shifts to Oct. 3, per the AP.
Earlier this week, BoJo’s decision to stick with talks instead of walking away prompted analysts to suggest that the odds of a deal are high. If the UK wanted to walk away, they would have. Instead, it’s clear that BoJo won’t get the concessions he wants until the last minute, when his “Intermarket Bill” will likely come back into play, as the EU moves to activate the withdrawal agreement’s dispute resolution mechanism in order to try and stop BoJo from effectively unilaterally defying an international treaty to keep trade barriers from being erected within the United Kingdom.
Tensions between the London and Brussels isn’t the only obstacle to a deal. Within the EU27, a debate is ongoing about the nature of a trade deal that the bloc can live with. French President Emmanuel Macron’s insistence that French fishermen retain access to British fishing waters is now the biggest roadblock to a deal, much to his allies’ chagrin. One German official recently hinted that France would come around once it realizes that the options are either “no fish” or “no deal”.
And once again, Brexit talks are coming down to the wire because of…seafood.