BRUSSELS – Slowed by the coronavirus pandemic and whipped up by a U.K.-imposed deadline, talks between the European Union and Britain on their future relationship in the wake of Brexit are struggling to make significant progress.
Reduced to negotiating sessions on video because of travel restrictions, the two sides are in a standoff on several key issues, ranging from fishing rights to the authority of high courts in future disputes.
A third week-long negotiation session is drawing to a close on Friday, but so far, just over 100 days after the U.K.'s official exit from the EU, fundamental gaps are still yawning.
“We have major points of divergence still," said David McAllister, a German EU parliamentarian who is the legislature's top official on the bilateral relations.
The U.K. position also remained uncompromising. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman, James Slack, insisted that “the EU has asked for far more from the U.K” than from other countries the bloc has trade deals with. Slack said the British Cabinet had agreed that the U.K. would not give in to demands “to give up our rights as an independent state.”
In little over a month, the EU leaders and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson are scheduled to have a summit, likely on video, to take stock of the talks' progress.
Britain officially left the 27-nation bloc on Jan. 31, but remains within the EU’s economic and regulatory orbit until the end of the year. The two sides have until then to work out a new relationship covering trade, security and a host of other issues -- or face a chaotic split that would be economically disruptive for both sides, but especially for the U.K.
The U.K.-EU divorce agreement allows for the deadline to be extended by two years, but Johnson's government insists it will not lengthen the transition period beyond Dec. 31.