Brexit prediction: Why ‘no great progress’ will be made in crunch talks until September
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David Henig, director of the UK trade policy project and a former trade negotiator, predicts both sides will report “no great progress” while both “play to domestic audiences”. Speaking out on Twitter this afternoon, Mr Henig predicted the “real political negotiations” would begin in September.
It comes after the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost said the Government would not ask for an extension and pledged that any request by the EU for one would be rejected.
Britain left the EU on January 31 but the main terms of its membership remain in place during a transition period until the end of this year, allowing it time to negotiate a new free trade deal with the bloc.
Mr Frost told the Commons Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union on Wednesday: “That is the firm policy of the Government, that we will not extend the transition period and if asked we would not agree to it.”
This was despite the European Union being “open” to a two-year Brexit delay, chief negotiator Michel Barnier confirmed.
In his letter, Mr Barnier said: “Such an extension of up to one or two years can be agreed jointly by the two parties.
“The European Union has always said that we remain open on this matter.”
Mr Henig added on Twitter: “Negotiators can only try to find the wiggle room around the red lines, ultimately the political leaders have to decide on the importance of compromise or no-deal.
But he stressed “right now neither side is ready for that conversation”.
Mr Henig continued: “Assuming that there is no extension, which I think is now quite a safe assumption as the need to say no to Europe is still more important than the detail.
“That only real UK red line (claiming victory over the EU) is harder to forecast in September.”
Speaking to the Financial Times earlier this week, the trade director also said that the UK was “cherry-picking” what it liked about EU membership.
He added: “The UK is looking for more than Canada, Korea or Japan in exchange for the same — or probably even less — in terms of level playing field provisions.”
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Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has also backed Mr Frost’s views on a two-year extension.
Mr Gove was answering questions from Peers on the House of Lords EU Committee on the progress of UK-EU future relationship negotiations.
Lord Wood of Anfield asked Mr Gove, said: “If indeed the European Council comes back and says, ‘Look we really do need a little extension for this transition period in order to get the basics sorted out’, is the Government’s position that it will say no to that request?”
Giving a short response, Mr Gove said: “Yes.”
The EU seemed to disagree with Mr Gove today with Michel Barnier’s senior adviser saying there were still “huge challenges” to come meaning an extension is likely.
Speaking during an online event hosted by the Institute for Government, Stefaan de Rynck said: “We have seven months left and huge challenges.
“The future relationship… there’s a couple of tough nuts that need to be cracked still in the economic and security partnership and in the governance.”
He continued: “There is the protocol in Northern Ireland which needs to be implemented and ready to be implemented by January 1 (2021) which is again seven months from now.
“If there’s a need for more time, it needs to be decided jointly and so we have said we’re certainly open for that.”
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