The 8th round of negotiations between the EU and Great Britain on the planned Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will end tomorrow. Negotiations have been underway since the end of February, but have so far been unsuccessful. And this round of negotiations should not be any different. Instead of moving towards each other, the negotiating parties seem to drift further and further apart. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has now also set a hard deadline for the EU summit on October 15. Should the basic structure of an agreement not be in place by then, he wants to prepare his country for a hard brexite.
Potentially even more problematic than this deadline is a new draft law that was presented in parliament yesterday. The Internal Market Bill sets out the government’s plans for smooth trade within the UK after the brexite or after the end of the transitional period at the end of this year. Crucially, the bill contains provisions that directly contravene the principles of the „Irish Protocol“. The latter was part of the exit agreement signed by the EU and Great Britain at the beginning of the year and regulates the customs regulations on the Irish island. The Irish Protocol stipulates that there will be no customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, even if the ongoing negotiations on a trade agreement should not lead to success. Instead, goods coming from the rest of Great Britain or other non-EU countries would be cleared through customs directly upon import into Northern Ireland. This was to ensure that goods entering Northern Ireland complied with EU rules and regulations. In addition, the Irish protocol stipulates that the United Kingdom must inform Brussels of all state aid decisions affecting Northern Ireland. The Internal Market Bill now threatens to directly undermine these two provisions. Even members of Boris Johnson’s cabinet admit that signing the Single Market Bill would possibly break international law. However, according to one minister, this is justifiable, since it is the government’s task to put the welfare of its own people first.
The Brexite negotiations were a high-stakes poker game from the outset. However, the question now is whether the general basic assumption that the British government will ultimately seek an agreement with the EU and will only act with a hard line in order to achieve the best possible result still applies.
I still expect the negotiations to be brought to a successful conclusion. Even if the Corona crisis reduces the political damage of failure, as the economic consequences would not be so obvious. It is surprising, however, that Boris Johnson and his cabinet colleagues are accepting political discreditation with the Internal Market Act. The law is accompanied by an obvious breach of contract that would expose the British government as an untrustworthy and unreliable negotiating partner for future international negotiations.