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A deadline has been set for an agreement by the end of October but currently trade talks are stalemate. The UK has several red lines including the sovereignty of UK fishing waters which Brussels has insisted Britain must compromise on, sparking fury from Downing Street. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to end the transition period with or without a deal.
The EU’s negotiator Michel Barnier has been acting on the advice of the bloc’s leaders when he meets with his UK counterpart Lord Frost, which means he is not in a position to make “concessions” without their say so, according to professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College London Anand Menon.
Those decisions come down to leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron who has been at the forefront of drawing red lines on the EU side.
Mr Macron has demanded the EU have the same access to the UK’s fishing waters despite Britain not being a member of the bloc.
The demand has vehemently been rejected by the UK as regaining sovereignty of national waters has been considered central to Brexit.
While addressing audiences at Global Birmingham – Beyond Brexit, Professor Menon said: “The gap between deal and no deal is far thinner than it has ever been.
“Because of COVID, political leaders of both sides have simply not been involved in enough negotiations.
“Civil servants such as [David] Frost and [Michel] Barnier cannot make the concessions both sides want – that’s a matter for people like French President Emmanuel Macron to decide.
“If those political leaders get involved we will see more progress than we have to date.
“A second COVID wave across Europe can jeopardise that.”
Professor Menon went on to claim the cost of Brexit and coronavirus will have a “significant” impact on the economy and politics.
He added: “When we exit from lockdown or whatever we are calling the current restrictions, we’re likely to see recovery to pre-pandemic levels in terms of economic growth.
“COVID is an enormous, dramatic cost. Brexit is an ongoing cost.
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“Post-Brexit we will see massive levels of regional inequality; we are already by far the European country with most regional deprivation.
“Be under no illusion that Brexit will have a significant and ongoing impact on economy and politics.”
Earlier this month, the UK Government came under fire over plans to introduce the Internal Market Bill – which will make changes to the Withdrawal Agreement signed last year.
The new Bill has been widely criticised as breaking international law by both UK and EU officials.
And Professor Menon believes pursuing this Bill will make future negotiations more difficult and heated as both sides would “rather have a deal”.
He continued: “If the UK government pursues the Internal Market Bill, things will get heated very, very quickly.
“It’s difficult to imagine both sides sitting down and negotiating very calmly on climate change, NATO and other areas.
“Because of that both sides would far rather have a deal.”
He continues to warn that if a deal is not in place by the end of the transition period in December, the UK will lose all access to European databases in terms of policing.
Professor Menon added: “If we don’t reach an agreement on policing with the EU, we will immediately – as of 11pm on New Year’s Eve (owing to time differences) – lose all access to shared European databases, which police forces use to access information on terrorist movements.
“In addition, a no deal Brexit will damage cooperation on foreign policy, in turn impacting on things like sanctions – on countries like Russia.”
During the speech, former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Sir Vince Cable, said the government’s stance on Brexit will disillusion many of its supporters.
The former Liberal Democrat leader added: “We are likely to see groups of voters begin to break off looking for a new home.
“What is emerging as common ground is that non-Brexiteers will start to unite and within that space there are various traditions competing.
“There will be an argument for a liberal voice, initially through local government and local elections, with a gradual return to power in northern constituencies like Liverpool and Hull.
“In general electoral terms, the future is in a complementary relationship with the Labour Party.”
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