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Brexit trade talks between the European Union and the UK were temporarily suspended this week after a negotiator from the EU’s Brexit team led by Michel Barnier tested positive for coronavirus. Each side now has less than six weeks to agree a deal. Express.co.uk spoke to a Brexit professor about why securing a Brexit deal will be far from the end of all negotiation between the EU and UK.
Britain formally left the EU on January 31, beginning a transition period which concludes on December 31, 2020.
The relationship between the UK and the EU will remain the same in practice until the end of the transition period.
If a deal is agreed in time, each side will begin operating on the newly agreed terms – but if a deal is not agreed, there will be a no-deal Brexit.
A no-deal Brexit will mean the UK would also automatically revert to World Trade Organisation trade rules, affecting each side in a myriad of ways.
Many political commentators believe a no-deal exit is now inevitable given trade talks have been stalled.
On November 19, Mr Barnier tweeted: “One of the negotiators in my team has tested positive for Covid-19.
“With [Lord Frost] we have decided to suspend the negotiations at our level for a short period.
“The teams will continue their work in full respect of guidelines.”
In spite of the outstanding contentious issues, EU ambassadors have been told the gaps on these issues is “slowly shrinking”.
The European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said: “After difficult weeks with very, very slow progress now we have seen in the last days better progress, more movement on important files. This is good.
“Within the frame of the level playing field progress, for example, has been made on the question of state aid, but there are still quite some metres to the finish line so there’s still a lot of work to do.
“Where the timelines are concerned time pressure is high without any question at the moment.
“Good is that before that legal text was on the table so there’s a lot to work on because there is now substance where you can go through line by line word for word.
“The whole team is engaged and working tirelessly day and night to reach the natural deadline we have to be done by the end of the year.”
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Professor Alex de Ruyter, Director of the Centre for Brexit Studies at Birmingham City University said Brexit negotiations will “almost certainly not” stop at the end of the transition period.
He told Express.co.uk: “For better or worse the EU will remain our nearest neighbour and largest trade partner.
“It is incredibly difficult to believe that all issues will have been settled forever by the end of negotiations.”
Professor de Ruyter said a no-deal Brexit “certainly isn’t inevitable”.
He added: “There is a substantial chance of a no-deal Brexit, although I suspect that the two sides would return to the negotiating table after a while – too much is at stake for everybody.”
What needs to be agreed to secure a final Brexit deal?
There are several elements which need to be agreed for a Brexit deal to be finalised.
Professor de Ruyter said: “I suspect that there will be ongoing wrangles over equivalence, as well as further discussions about fish.
“No doubt there will be a desire to continue collaborating on issues of mutual interest, such as research funding.
“There are various agencies that exist that the UK is likely to want to collaborate with (on issues like aviation safety, medicines safety etc.).
“I think it’s also likely that the UK and EU will want to cooperate on a number of standards.
“In the medium term, the UK and EU will both evolve – this relationship will not be static.
“I can’t see us re-joining the EU any time soon, but I wouldn’t rule out a closer relationship in future.”
In the immediate future, the key points which must be agreed are the level-playing field and fishing issues according to the Brexit professor.
But there are also several outstanding problems which will remain a point of negotiation in weeks, months and potentially years to come.
He said: “Within these, key outstanding points relate to the change in standards over time (ratchet clauses), retaliatory measures if one side breaks the agreement and how state aid rules can be applied and judged.”
Professor de Ruyter added that like any trade agreement the deal would be subject to change or amendments in the future.
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