BRUSSELS — Long-awaited trade talks between the European Union and Britain kick off Monday amid deep tensions over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s threat to walk away from the talks if not enough progress is made within four months.
Britain became the first country to ever leave the EU on Jan. 31. Monday’s talks mark the start of a process aimed at securing its commercial, fishing and other ties with the world’s biggest trading bloc.
All that has to be concluded by the end of this year, according to Johnson.
Given that most EU trade deals with other countries take years to conclude, there is real time pressure on the negotiators.
This week’s negotiations will take place in Brussels. The EU will be represented by the European Commission, which has supervised the Brexit process and which negotiates international trade agreements on behalf of the 27 member countries.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said that no deal can provide the frictionless trade that membership provided.
The first round of talks will run until Thursday and are set to centre mostly on negotiating formalities, although some discussion on the substance of an agreement is expected. The teams are expected to meet every 2-3 weeks, alternating between Brussels and London. Half a dozen or so rounds of negotiations are expected to take place by the end of June.
That will be a crucial moment in the discussions. Under the divorce agreement signed last year, Britain must decide by then whether it wants to extend a transition period that is aimed at smoothing its departure from the bloc, of which it was a member of for 47 years.
Johnson has insisted that he won’t be asking for any extension to the transition period beyond the end of this year. That effectively means that in the event of no deal this year, Britain and the EU will then trade on terms outlined by the World Trade Organization, which would see tariffs and other restrictions imposed.
During the transition, Britain effectively remains within the EU’s economic orbit, including its single market for trade in goods and services, even though it has left its political institutions.
Johnson was one of the main backers of the Brexit campaign in the June 2016 referendum, and said leaving the EU would restore his country’s sovereignty. London’s negotiating mandate states: “we will not agree to any obligations for our laws to be aligned with the EU’s, or for the EU’s institutions, including the Court of Justice, to have any jurisdiction in the U.K.”
The EU has said it won’t be pressured by Johnson’s demand to wrap up a trade deal by the end of this year and is keen to ensure that his government does not secure an agreement that could give Britain a competitive advantage. EU negotiators want Britain to sign up to a swathe of EU regulations, including environmental standards, workers’ rights and state aid rules.
The first potential big tussle may well be on fishing rights. Johnson says Brexit means that Britain takes control of its waters. The EU, meanwhile, wants to make sure its fishing fleets still have access to British waters, in much the same way as they do now.
The Associated Press
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Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health confirmed four new positive cases of coronavirus on Sunday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Ontario to 15.
Provincial health officials say three of the people are from York Region and one person is from Toronto.
Among the cases confirmed is a man in his 50’s who is currently living in Vaughan. He is the brother of one of Toronto’s recently reported cases who travelled to Iran. He was assessed and tested at Mackenzie Health Hospital in Richmond Hill on Feb. 28 and is currently in self-isolation.
Another positive case is a man in his 40s who is the spouse of York Region’s first case, which was announced on Saturday. He had travelled with his wife and toddler but was asymptomatic on all flights. Officials say she had self-isolated prior to developing symptoms and has had no community exposure since.
A third man in his 60’s has also been diagnosed after he returned from Iran last Sunday. He was assessed and discharged from North York General Hospital and is currently in self-isolation.
The fourth case is a woman in her 70’s from Newmarket who was in Egypt with a Toronto man who was diagnosed with the virus back on Feb. 28. She was tested and assessed at Southlake Regional Health Centre and has been in self-isolation since Feb. 29.
Thus far, health officials have said, all of the cases of COVID-19 in Canada are either in people who had recently travelled abroad or who were in close contact with those who had. British Columbia has reported eight cases, and Quebec is reporting one.
“At this time, the virus is not circulating locally,” read a statement from provincial health officials. “However, given the global circumstances, Ontario is actively working with city and health partners to plan for the potential of local spread.”
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