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The beginning of the end: This could be the final week of post-Brexit trade talks

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The EU can pursue and win a legal challenge, but isn’t talking that up because we don’t need “two loaded revolvers on the table,” Neale Richmond said.

THE FINAL SCHEDULED round of post-Brexit trade talks begin today, with negotiators from the British and EU sides meeting in Brussels to try to hammer out the final details of a plan to get the bare bones of a trade deal agreed before the end of next month.

The schedule for talks this week shows that the three main obstacles are still taking up the most time in negotiations: the level-playing field, governance issues and fisheries.

“There were small advances after the 6th or 7th Round, but still the ideological is absolutely at odds with what was agreed in the political declaration and that’s still a massive concern and it doesn’t seem to be shifting,” Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond said.

Other topics to be discussed this week include energy, trade in goods and services, and law enforcement and judicial cooperation.

On the controversial Internal Market Bill, which threatens to overwrite elements of the Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland, Neale Richmond refereed to a comparison of a “loaded revolver” on the negotiation table.

The UK had originally argued that the Bill protects the peace process in Northern Ireland. But after the Irish government came out to refute that claim, the UK government is arguing that it is only a last resort if the EU doesn’t act in good faith. 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson argues it will provide a “safety net” against what he claimed are EU threats to impose tariffs on UK internal trade, and carry out customs checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland (what Johnson calls a blockade).

Although the EU wants all three offending Clauses in the Bill removed by tomorrow, Richmond says that this hasn’t changed ongoing trade negotiations, which will continue all this week.

But he added that the EU will pursue “all legal options” if needs be.

The EU can pursue and win a legal challenge – but the EU isn’t talking that up because we don’t need two loaded revolvers on the table. 

Senior British minister Michael Gove and European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič met in London yesterday as part of the Joint Implementation Committee – a group that aims to implement the Withdrawal Agreement. 

Eu citizens
Source: European Commission

At a press conference following this meeting, Šefčovič said that “the window of opportunity” to put in place the operational measures needed for the Northern Ireland protocol to function “is rapidly closing”.

I have therefore iterated the urgent needs for the UK to accelerate its work on all aspects of the protocol and in particular with regard to sanitary and phytosanitary controls, customs-related IT systems and the registration of Northern Irish traders for Value Added Tax purposes.

He said that the protocol on Northern Ireland is so important that the protocol – which it aims to protect – has been enshrined in international law.

“Northern Ireland shouldn’t be any chip in any negotiations between the EU and the UK,” he stressed.

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Šefčovič said that the committee would reconvene either in the first or second week of October, but also expressed a wish that they would “pave the way” for another meeting by mid-October.

Among the outstanding issues that committee faces is deciding what goods can move from Great Britain to Northern Ireland without “risk” of moving to the EU, and so won’t have to face customs duties; what fishing products caught by Northern vessels will be exempt from EU duties; and what maximum level of support for Northern Ireland farmers can be given before being subjected to EU subsidy control. 

This morning, RTÉ reports that the arrangement proposed by the European Commission in July was that EU goods with a higher tariff than UK goods will be most at risk, whereas goods with a lower tariff differential will be deemed at less risk of smuggling.

But RTÉ also reports that the UK is to propose another domestic bill which would give the UK unilateral control to decide what GB-to-NI goods face tariffs.

The European Council meeting will take place on 15-16 October, the date by which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested some sort of trade agreement would have to be reached or else negotiations would end.

The European Union has insisted that trade negotiations could continue until the end of the month.

Richmond said that Brexit is “back on the agenda” at the European Council “for the first time in a long time, which is reflective of the difficult few weeks” we’ve had.

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