At the time of writing, the negotiations on the future trade relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union are still proceeding, albeit with some hiccups. There is little time left, given that the UK will exit the transition period on 31 December and all parties, EU Member States included, will have to ratify whatever agreement is struck before then.
The EU Withdrawal Agreement (WA) was concluded in October of last year. Article 184 of the WA required both parties to use best endeavours, acting in good faith, to negotiate a free trade agreement (FTA) that was respectful of UK sovereignty and the integrity of its internal market.
That, however, never happened. From the outset, the EU refused to discuss anything other that their own “red line” issues.
Firstly, they demanded that the UK should effectively adhere to EU regulatory standards, despite having previously agreed an FTA with Canada that contained no such provisions.
The next red line was fisheries. The EU essentially wanted its trawlers to continue to have unfettered access to UK waters, ignoring the fact that the UK is now an independent coastal state.
Finally, there was the issue of governance of the new relationship. The EU’s demand was for the European Court of Justice to be the final arbiter in cases of dispute. Not surprisingly, the UK rejected the proposal.
It is small wonder that the negotiations have proceeded extremely slowly. Nevertheless, the chief UK negotiator, David Frost, has proved a dogged champion of British interests, refusing to accede to the EU’s demands.
The impasse might have continued indefinitely had the Prime Minister not declared in October that, such was the EU’s intransigence, there was no purpose in negotiating further. That announcement clearly caused a profound shock in Brussels, because the EU are at last talking sensibly.
However, time is now very short: in reality, just a few days. It remains to be seen whether the sudden injection of realism will result in a sensible agreement that would benefit both parties. If not, it will be a hugely wasted opportunity.