Britain to try to clinch post-Brexit deal over video conference
Specialised committee on Ireland and Northern Ireland due to meet soon
Lead negotiators Michel Barnier (above) and David Frost held their first official meeting over video on Wednesday. Photograph: Francisco Seco/AP Photo
Lead negotiators Michel Barnier and David Frost held their first official meeting over video on Wednesday after talks were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Mr Barnier tested positive for the virus in March, and both negotiators were put into isolation.
The negotiators exchanged legal texts and agreed on the next steps in a meeting described in a joint statement as “constructive”. They announced three rounds of talks would be held remotely, starting on Monday next week, followed by further rounds in May and June. Each round will be a week long.
“The two sides agreed on the need to organise further negotiating rounds in order to make real, tangible progress in the negotiations by June,” the statement read. A high-level meeting will be held that month to take stock of what progress has been made.
Britain has the option to extend the transition period if it decides to do so by June. But the British government has insisted it is sticking to the current expiry date of the transition period on December 31st this year.
Until then, Britain will continue to trade with the EU on the same terms as before. If no deal is agreed and the transition period ends as scheduled at the end of the year, Britain will automatically begin trading with EU states on World Trade Organisation rules, a change that is estimated to hit the Irish economy hard.
Under the withdrawal agreement reached last year, Northern Ireland is to remain in line with the EU. But this entails checks between Britain and Northern Ireland. The EU has said reaching a future relationship deal is contingent on evidence that the agreement already made is being implemented. A joint committee examining this implementation met at the end of March.
The negotiators “agreed that the proper and timely implementation of the withdrawal agreement was a key priority for both sides”, the joint statement read, adding that a specialised committee on Ireland and Northern Ireland would meet soon.
Before the pandemic hit, negotiators had been scheduled to meet five times by May in rounds of talks that were supposed to alternate between Brussels and London, but were only able to meet in person for the first round. Even before the pandemic threw talks off course, agreeing a deal on time had already been viewed as challenging due to the complexity of the trade relationship.