A top European Union official dealing with the United Kingdom said Tuesday that a cliff-edge rupture between the two without even a basic trade deal by the end of the year is becoming more likely by the day.
EU Vice President Maros Sefcovic told the European Parliament in Brussels that “time is short” to reach a deal before a Brexit divorce transition period ends in less than 100 days, effectively giving negotiators less than four weeks to broker a deal which must subsequently go through a lengthy approval process.
And he pointed his finger at British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for making things even more difficult when he decided last month to introduce a bill that breaches the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement it struck with the bloc to make sure it could leave on January 31.
Sefcovic said it made Britain less trustworthy and called the plans “a heavy blow to the British signature and reliability”. Respecting agreements is first a matter of law, but also of trust and in good faith.”
He said the plans left the EU with no choice but to launch legal action against the UK. If passed into law, The Internal Market Bill will undermine the EU’s previously agreed oversight of trade to and from Northern Ireland, which shares a border with EU member Ireland.
The EU is furious that Britain plans to breach portions of the withdrawal treaty that were put in place to maintain an open Irish border, which has underpinned peace since Northern Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday accord. Sefcovic said the EU would never change anything to the Brexit divorce deal.
Under such adversarial conditions, negotiators from both sides continue to look for common ground to broker a rudimentary trade deal to avoid a barrage of uncertainty, tariffs and red tape that would hurt economies on both sides when the transition window ends on Jan. 1.
But while negotiators have inched close to agreement in many areas during six months of talks, they remain deadlocked over European fishing boats’ access to UK waters, and over the level of support governments can give to industry. The EU is concerned that British plans to subsidise sectors such as technology will amount to unfair competition.