Editorial of the “World”. Boris Johnson has said it over and over again: if an agreement does not emerge at the European Council on October 15, he will slam the door to Brexit negotiations. The rantings of the British Prime Minister should not be misled: everyone knows, him first, that Thursday’s summit can, at the best of times, accelerate talks between the Twenty-Seven and London with a view to an agreement organizing the future commercial relations beyond December 31, the deadline set for an effective divorce.
After months of trampling, the dialogue seems to be progressing as the deadline approaches, which, in the absence of an agreement, would mark a disastrous restoration of customs duties and border controls on goods. Last week, British negotiator David Frost said he was ready to soften his stance on state aid to businesses, which London wants to be able to operate freely, at the risk of competing with the European Union (EU) in an unfair manner. Echoing this, Michel Barnier, who is leading the negotiations for the EU, asked the European leaders concerned – including Emmanuel Macron – to moderate their demands in terms of fishing rights.
The British are demanding the restoration of an exclusive right to fish in their national waters, from which their neighbors have so far benefited greatly. It is their main lever in the negotiations, and also one of the few clear ‘Brexit dividends’ promised by Mr Johnson to his voters. While the Europeans want to keep all of their fishing rights in British waters, London wants to make their access conditional on annual negotiations. An uncertainty that the countries concerned refuse – France, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, etc. -, who know that the British export 70% of their catch to the EU and need a general trade agreement to continue to do so.
A compromise is possible
For the Twenty-Seven, however, the overall commitment to respect “fair competition rules” is the central issue. Mr Johnson, despite being ultraliberal, wants the British state to be able to help companies more generously than the EU. EU members, worried about the risk of dumping, are also demanding social and environmental alignment.
Europeans’ confidence in Mr Johnson has been scalded by his bill flouting certain provisions of the “Withdrawal Agreement” which he himself signed last year. A prime minister already shaken in British opinion for his calamitous management of Covid-19 and his poor performance, grappling with a rebellion of deputies of his own majority, can he also inflict on his country a crisis of “no deal? “?
It is high time to put an end to the bad Brexit soap opera. A compromise is possible and an agreement highly desirable, provided it preserves the unity of the European single market and employment on the continent. This undoubtedly presupposes a final psychodrama, featuring the determination of each party to defend its interests and presenting in an acceptable manner inevitable reciprocal concessions. But, as the threat of Covid spreads again and more than four years after the Brexit vote was voted, it would be irresponsible to continue playing on the nerves of Europeans. Both geography and history condemn the British and “mainlanders” to get along. In an increasingly unstable world, Europe cannot afford to prolong the Brexit crisis.