surreal resumption of negotiations between London and Brussels

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and Boris Johnson’s European adviser David Frost on March 2 in Brussels.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and Boris Johnson’s European adviser David Frost on March 2 in Brussels. POOL New / REUTERS

After a month of halt, Brexit negotiations resumed on Monday April 20, exclusively by videoconference between London and Brussels, pandemic forces. "We have to move forward in all areas: our goal is to make tangible progress by June", tweeted Michel Barnier, the European Union's negotiator, in the afternoon.

In reality, with the exception of the Johnson government, which stubbornly refuses an extension beyond December 31, 2020 of the transition period, all Europeans – and quite a few British people – are convinced that more time must be given to parties to reach an agreement, in a context where the leaders are far too busy with the health crisis to manage other emergencies.

"We will not call for an extension of the transition period, and, if the European Union (EU) in fact requests it (which is a possibility), we will refuse it, thus attacked the spokesman for Downing Street, Thursday, April 16. "Extending the transition period would mean prolonging discussions, uncertainty for the business community, and delaying our ability to control our borders. This would keep us tied to European law at a time when we specifically need economic and legislative flexibility to adjust the UK's response to the coronavirus pandemic. "

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This very firm development followed a telephone point, Wednesday, April 15, between Michel Barnier, European chief negotiator for Brexit, and David Frost, his British alter ego. The two had not spoken since mid-March, both of whom fell ill. The work sessions scheduled for late March and early April have been canceled. The Frenchman having tested positive for Covid-19, the hundred or so experts on the European team had to observe around forty. The two men decided on a new timetable for the negotiations of the "Future relationship" post-Brexit: in addition to this week's sequence, two others should follow, from May 11 and then from 1er June. The two hundred British and European negotiators were divided into nine virtual working groups.

Prime Minister convalescing

Downing Street's position is nothing new: the Johnson government has been saying since the end of 2019 that there is no question of accepting an extension of the transitional period beyond the end of this year. However, according to the divorce treaty between Brussels and London, the United Kingdom can benefit from the transition – from the rights and duties of an EU member – until the end of 2022. But the situation has obviously changed with the Coronavirus epidemic: since mid-March, like other European governments, Downing Street has urgently been handling a historic pandemic crisis.

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