26, February 2020
As they rubber-stamped the bloc’s 46-page negotiating document, general affairs ministers from the 27-nation EU used words such as complicated, difficult, and tough with respect to the forthcoming talks aimed at trying to reach a free trade deal with the UK.
Michel Barnier was referring to a claim made on a number of occasions by London-appointed Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis that there would not be a border on the Irish sea.
However, this is a key component of the Brexit withdrawal agreement that the British Government has fully endorsed. It is crucial to preventing highly contentious border checks on land between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
When trade talks start next week, major challenges are also likely to emerge relating to fishing rights, employment standards, climate change, and a whole range of other issues.
Outside the venue of the ministers’ meeting in Brussels, workers’ unions held a demonstration. They highlighted the fact that poverty and youth unemployment levels remain very high in the EU. It is time, they said, for the remaining 27 countries to take action.
Right now, everything remains the same. It is as though the UK is still in the EU. But when the Brexit transition period ends on December 31, there will be wide-ranging consequences if a trade deal has not been reached. That is the outcome many experts are predicting. It’s anticipated Boris Johnson is set to prioritize UK-US relations above ties between London and Brussels.
The UK delegation led by negotiator David Frost is due to arrive here next Monday to begin formal talks with the EU’s team, headed up by Michel Barnier. According to analysts, the two biggest obstacles standing in the way of a possible deal are the unrealistic time frame and the influence of eurosceptic Donald Trump.