The EU’s Brexit unity is about to come under severe strain.
Speaking from one script was Brussels’ greatest asset in the first phase of Brexit. It prevented London playing divide-and-rule and ultimately forced concessions from the U.K. in the talks. But while it was relatively easy to forge a common position on the Brexit bill, citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland, agreement on trade priorities will be much harder.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he wants to conclude the talks by the end of next year, with no extension of the transition period. That’s very tight.
“It won’t be possible in this very [limited] time frame to do everything, but we will do everything that is possible,” EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday.
Just as in phase one of the talks, Barnier is already trying to use the ticking clock to his advantage, by framing the trade talks as a choice between different options made necessary by the lack of time to agree something more bespoke.
“At a certain point there are going to be trade-offs necessary. We have to stay united to get a deal within this timeframe, but it won’t be easy” — EU diplomat
“Does the U.K. wish to distance itself, and to what extent, from our regulatory model?” Barnier asked, adding that Britain would have to answer that question “in the next weeks.”
“That will determine the level of our ambition,” he added.
But in truth,