The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has confirmed that no progress has been made in the almost five months since the UK formally left the bloc. Britain has until the end of June to request an extension of the transition period, which is due to expire in six months’ time, but the Government has repeatedly ruled this out. So despite the fact that coronavirus has triggered the worst recession in peacetime history, it seems ministers are happy to let UK firms also suffer the consequences of a messy no-deal scenario at the end of the year.
“Brexit ultras” have sought to make a no-deal exit sound less scary by rebadging it as an “Australian-style” outcome, said Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer, but don’t be fooled: it would be “no picnic on Bondi beach”. The CBI says Covid-19 has left firms with “almost zero” resilience to a chaotic EU split. The hardest-hit areas would likely be those where many people voted Tory for the first time in 2019. Nissan has warned that a no-deal outcome could lead to the closure of its Sunderland car plant. Before last year’s election, Boris Johnson boasted that he had an “oven-ready deal”, but the only thing coming from his kitchen “is the smell of something burning”.
A no-deal exit would certainly hurt, said Camilla Cavendish in the FT, but there’s no point extending the transition period for a year or two if it just “prolongs the paralysis”. While the “skinny FTA” (free trade agreement) sought by UK chief negotiator David Frost is more complicated than the deals struck by Canada or Japan with the EU, an agreement is achievable in six months if the two sides put their minds to it. At the moment, Brussels is the one being unreasonable. Its demand that the UK adopt EU state aid rules in perpetuity, overseen by a foreign court, “seems aggressive and unrealistic – not least when only a month ago, German judges challenged the principle of European Court of Justice supremacy”. The EU could show more flexibility on this issue, agreed Wolfgang Münchau in the same paper. But the UK, for its part, needs to accept that it can’t wriggle out of commitments it has already made regarding a level playing field in future trade with the EU. “The job to find a compromise will fall to the EU German presidency, which starts in July. It is still all to play for.”. (The Week, 13 June 2020)