Brexit: Standoff puts EU-UK trade deal on a knife edge

The United Kingdom and European Union will make a last-ditch attempt to strike a post-Brexit trade deal this week, with just days left for negotiators to avert a chaotic divorce at the end of the year.

Micheal Martin, the prime minister of Ireland, which would face more economic pain than any of the other 26 EU member states in the case of a “no-deal”, cautioned against over-optimism, putting the chances of an agreement at only 50-50.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke over the weekend to get their teams back to the negotiating table after talks stalled on three thorny issues.

The Guardian newspaper reported after talks resumed on Sunday that there had been “a major breakthrough” on the rights of European fleets to fish in UK waters, leaving only a tussle over how closely Britain should hew to EU environmental, social and labour standards over time to ensure a level playing field.

While a British government source said there had been no breakthrough on fishing rights on Sunday, EU officials did not immediately comment on the report.

Al Jazeera’s Nadim Baba, reporting from London, said: “Firstly, there’s fishing rights, in other words, what access EU fishing fleets have to UK waters and how quickly any changes happen.

“Then there’s a more fundamental question of the level playing field, that’s measures to ensure businesses on one side don’t have an unfair advantage. Brussels wants the UK to stick closely to its rules on things like workers’ rights, environmental regulations and especially state-aid to businesses.

“Lastly there is governance, including how any agreement would be enforced and what role institutions such as the European Court of Justice would have.”

Johnson and von der Leyen are due to hold another call on Monday evening in the hope that, by then, the stubborn differences will have narrowed.

In the event of a no-deal outcome, Jonathan Lis, deputy director of UK think-tank British Influence, told Al Jazeera there would be “no formal cooperation” between the two sides.

“All kinds of goods could get held up at the border, and a lot of businesses who do trade with Europe will go under,” he said. “Our manufacturing industries are very exposed, farming is very exposed, and even fishing is incredibly exposed.”

Irish PM Martin told national broadcaster RTE: “My sense, having spoken to some of the key principals here, is that it is a very challenging issue to resolve, particularly around the level playing field … Things are on a knife-edge here and it is serious.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke over the weekend to get their teams back to the negotiating table after talks stalled on three thorny issues.

The Guardian newspaper reported after talks resumed on Sunday that there had been “a major breakthrough” on the rights of European fleets to fish in UK waters, leaving only a tussle over how closely Britain should hew to EU environmental, social and labour standards over time to ensure a level playing field.

While a British government source said there had been no breakthrough on fishing rights on Sunday, EU officials did not immediately comment on the report.

Al Jazeera’s Nadim Baba, reporting from London, said: “Firstly, there’s fishing rights, in other words, what access EU fishing fleets have to UK waters and how quickly any changes happen.

“Then there’s a more fundamental question of the level playing field, that’s measures to ensure businesses on one side don’t have an unfair advantage. Brussels wants the UK to stick closely to its rules on things like workers’ rights, environmental regulations and especially state-aid to businesses.

“Lastly there is governance, including how any agreement would be enforced and what role institutions such as the European Court of Justice would have.”

Johnson and von der Leyen are due to hold another call on Monday evening in the hope that, by then, the stubborn differences will have narrowed.

In the event of a no-deal outcome, Jonathan Lis, deputy director of UK think-tank British Influence, told Al Jazeera there would be “no formal cooperation” between the two sides.

“All kinds of goods could get held up at the border, and a lot of businesses who do trade with Europe will go under,” he said. “Our manufacturing industries are very exposed, farming is very exposed, and even fishing is incredibly exposed.”

Irish PM Martin told national broadcaster RTE: “My sense, having spoken to some of the key principals here, is that it is a very challenging issue to resolve, particularly around the level playing field … Things are on a knife-edge here and it is serious.”

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