Nine months after the talks began, the tension arose when Michel Barnier and David Frost walked into the windowless “cave” on Friday in an attempt to sort out the post-Brexit relationship between Britain and the EU.
The negotiations, which began in March and were due to end in July and then in October, were finally entering into what both sides acknowledged to be the end of the game. “They went as far as they could,” said a British official.
Supported by take-out pizzas and sandwiches, Mr Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, and Lord Frost, his British counterpart, led teams that worked late into the night in London this week on a future deal relationship.
But an air of grave uncertainty hung over the process as negotiations were “suspended” for allow Boris Johnson to speak to Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, to try to break the deadlock. British officials had previously warned that the talks were at “a very difficult point”.
Both sides now agree that any deal signed by officials at the Department for Business’s dismal underground conference center – a stone’s throw from the UK parliament – will have to be turned over to higher authorities.
British Prime Minister Johnson, who has been working this weekend since his retirement from Checkers Country, is ready to speak to other European leaders in an attempt to strike a deal that will support attempts to rebuild relations between the UK United and the EU after Brexit.
The same issues have hampered the talks from the start and went unresolved at 11 a.m. on Friday as Mr Barnier and Lord Frost returned to the negotiating table: the so-called level playing field to ensure fair trade competition and the EU access to UK fishing waters.
Both issues are at the heart of the negotiations: Mr Johnson’s desire to regain sovereignty over the UK regulatory regime and fisheries, and the EU’s insistence that any deal granting access to its vast market interior of 450 million inhabitants must be accompanied by conditions.
A real sense of urgency is now seizing the negotiations and not just because time is running out before the end of the British transition period to Brexit on January 1.
On Monday, MPs will start voting on Mr Johnson’s controversial legislation that would allow ministers to tear up parts of the UK’s withdrawal treaty with the EU over Northern Ireland.
The prospect of MEPs voting to violate an EU treaty while negotiators simultaneously attempt to agree on a new one has thrilled both sides. Charles Michel, President of the European Council, stressed that Great Britain must fully respect its withdrawal treaty.
The 27 EU leaders meet for a heads of government summit in Brussels on Thursday, with both sides determined to resolve the issue by then.
Discussions in the ‘cave’, adorned with posters promoting Britain’s post-Brexit trade ambitions, were in part dominated by heated bickering over how to divide existing EU fishing rights in the British waters, worth around 650 million euros each year, and of them in the UK.
British officials complain that the European side is reluctant to go beyond an old bid for sacrifice around 18% of these fishing rights.
Over the past two days, negotiators have negotiated species by species, with talks in a context of relentless pressure from France for the EU not to sell the sector.
Jean Castex, French Prime Minister, visited Boulogne-sur-Mer on Thursday to warn that the country was ready to veto the fruits of Mr Barnier’s efforts.
Satisfying French President Emmanuel Macron will be a top priority for Brussels leaders if a deal comes to fruition, with Paris at the forefront of a worried group of EU capitals that merged during this week.
The group – which also includes the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Italy and Spain – is concerned that too many concessions have been made to Britain and insists it would be better for negotiations to drag on rather than the EU to accept a bad deal.
In a debriefing with the ambassadors on Wednesday and a separate session with senior advisers to national leaders on Thursday, the group insisted that Barnier remain at the negotiating table until he secures a deal that protect their fishermen and safeguard their businesses, or negotiations fail.
France and the rest of the world fear that not only the European Commission but also Berlin may be ready to agree to a sub-optimal deal, and they have called for a screening of anything that emerges from the talks before anyone hails a result. positive.
The complaints were a visible sign that Mr Barnier was running up against the limits of his negotiating mandate and increased the pressure on exhausted EU negotiators after a six-week period of almost uninterrupted daily sessions with their British counterparts.
The constraints on Mr Barnier have helped escalate talks over the EU’s insistence on its right to swiftly distribute economic sanctions to Britain should it violate the terms of a future relationships.
Brussels is demanding so-called cross-retaliatory rights that would allow it, for example, to hit British manufactures with tariffs if Britain reneges on its equal commitments.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesperson Steffen Seibert said: “There is always room for compromise. This is our basic attitude, even though there is not much time left. ”
The days to come will determine if he is right.
Additional reporting by Guy Chazan in Berlin