As Brexit negotiations between Britain and the European Union fall further and further, with a year-end deadline approaching to secure a free trade agreement, France is putting the brakes on – alerting EU negotiators not to be pressed by the clock ticking.
“We should not put ourselves, Europeans, under time pressure to end at this hour or that day. Otherwise, we would put ourselves in a situation of making bad concessions,” France’s European Minister, Clement Beaune, told BFM, in comments reported by the Associated Press.
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The United Kingdom formally left the EU in January, having voted to exit in 2016. This exit triggered a transition period that lasted up to a year to allow the two parties to reach a free trade agreement.
But negotiations have been stalled and hampered by the global pandemic. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned the British not to prepare for any deals – which could lead to port disruptions, product tariffs and potential shortages across the country.
Johnson himself was involved in negotiations, going to Brussels this month for talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who have continued on the phone since then.
Britain has been reacting against the terms, including EU fishing rights in UK waters, which it considers violating its sovereignty – one of the main issues in the 2016 vote. But the EU is equally cautious about whether Britain – Britain avoid complicated EU regulations in areas such as the environment and gain a competitive advantage.
“It is vital that everyone understands that the UK must be able to control its own laws completely, and also that we will be able to control our own fishing,” said Johnson recently.
The aggravating factor in recent days is the new coronavirus strain discovered in the United Kingdom, which quickly caused European countries to limit travel. France closed its border for 48 hours, causing chaos for truck drivers in the UK’s port of Dover.
Negotiators have tried to make progress on fishing rights in British waters and other competition issues, making the possibility of a deal again.
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However, according to Reuters, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said in a closed-door meeting that the UK’s latest offer on fishing in British waters from 2021 was “totally unacceptable”.
Reuters reported that EU negotiators were willing to cut the value of their catch in British waters by around 25%, but Britain wanted a 30-35% reduction. Meanwhile, the UK wants to limit access to the EU to three years, while the EU wants a six-year term.
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Beaune, the French minister, also said that fair competition rules are still an obstacle, although the Associated Press reported that other EU officials said they were close to an agreement. He also said that the British need to respect EU rules for any such agreement.
“Well, if the British come into our market, well, they can respect our rules. It is elementary economic justice, ”said Beaune. “We will not give in due to time pressure.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.