Brexit Countdown: UK-EU Still ‘Far Apart’ as Biden May Take EU‘s Side in Trade Deal Talks

Written by | Tuesday, November 17th, 2020

The UK’s determination to plough on with controversial Brexit legislation that breaks international law threatens to increase tensions with the European Union and the incoming Biden administration in the United States, at a time when Britain is seeking trade deals on both sides of the Atlantic. The British government has vowed to reinstate parts of its controversial Internal Market Bill, despite heavy defeats in the House of Lords that ditched clauses breaking international law. But the government says it will restore the controversial sections concerning arrangements for Northern Ireland, when the bill returns to the House of Commons in the coming weeks. The move could cause a rift between the Johnson administration and US President-elect Joe Biden, who has previously warned that that Brexit must not jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement, a peace accord which ended a decades-long sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland. The legislation has also been condemned by the EU and scores of British politicians, including from many in Johnson’s ruling Conservative Party.
It is unlikely the EU will grant the UK a grace period in January to help business adjust to the new post-Brexit trading regime, Ireland’s foreign affairs minister has told the media. Either way, significant disruption to trade is expected from 1 January when the UK ceases to be a member of the EU single market and customs union. While many trade experts have warned an initial grace period of around three to six months may be necessary to allow businesses to get used to the changes, Simon Coveney said such flexibilities are “very difficult” for Brussels to allow. “No, I don’t think that’s likely, you know, I think that the law changes as regards to trade at the end of the year”, he said, adding that “Britain is a third country and will be trading as a third country and they hopefully will be able to manage that new relationship on the basis of an agreement that can be done in the next in the next week or so.”
Meanwhile, the view that Biden’s victory in the US presidential election strengthens EU’s hand in post-Brexit trade deal talks echoes throughout Brussels institutions and capital cities around Europe. Johnson has reasons to make nice with Joe Biden who earlier called Boris Johnson a “physical and emotional clone” of Donald Trump. A proud Irish-American, Biden has already voiced his concerns about the question of the Irish border: “We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit,” he tweeted in September. “Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.” Hence, Biden’s close relationship with Ireland and opposition to Brexit will likely shape the new US administration’s future attitude to the UK and EU: It’s unlikely the UK could ever get any kind of special trade deal with the US and any UK-US trade deal will be treated as very much a second-order issue relative to a UK-EU deal that is seen as much more important.

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