Brexit chief negotiators Michel Barnier and David Frost didn’t shake hands at the end of the first round of talks on a post-Brexit relationship — but it was because of coronavirus, not because the negotiations went badly.
After years of speculation on what a post-Brexit relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union could look like, this week more than 200 people from both sides got together to begin work in earnest.
Here are five takeaways from the first round of negotiations.
1. They got off to a good start
Never mind the handshakes, it didn’t stop the two sides getting to know each other and their positions. Both teams applauded the competence and professionalism of those on the other side of the table. “We understand each other’s positions. That hasn’t always been the case in the past,” one negotiator said.
The U.K. promised to live up to its promises on Northern Ireland — a crucial demand from the EU side. British media had reported that the Brexit team had been ordered to come up with plans to “get around” the Northern Ireland protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement, which foresees checks on goods passing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland to avoid a hard border between the latter and the Republic of Ireland.
Barnier got reassurances from the U.K. that it will keep this promise. “It was a question of trust that we needed at this point to start building our future relationship,” Barnier told reporters on Thursday.
From the EU side, Barnier made clear that nobody disputes the U.K.’s independence. The former French minister stressed that this mutual respect and not going back on earlier commitments are two possible keys to success.