This picture taken in Brussels on Jan 5, 2020 shows the flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union. [Photo/Agencies]

Likelihood of no deal continues to grow but UK-EU negotiations could carry on

The chairman of European Parliament’s trade committee gave a gloomy outlook on the likelihood of a Brexit trade deal on Sunday, tweeting that “emergency measures “would likely need to be agreed between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Sunday evening was the latest deadline for the two sides to come to an agreement on post-Brexit trade relations between the UK and the 27-member bloc, which according to recent figures published from Germany’s ifo Center for International Economics, accounts for 47 percent of Britain’s exports.

It has already been pushed back several times, but Bernd Lange tweeted “the consequence of no deal (on Sunday) is obvious: the EP does not know the consolidated text, is not in a position to scrutinize before the end of the transition period. So make preparations now for a no-deal period and agree emergency measures with UK.”

France’s European Affairs minister Clement Beaune adopted a slightly less pessimistic tone, saying talks could well continue beyond Sunday.

With time running out and divisions still clear on several topics, most notably fishing, the British side is suggesting a no-deal Brexit looks more likely, but Beaune, a close ally of French President Emmanuel Macron, said “It would be normal not to say: well it’s Sunday evening so let’s wrap it and sacrifice everything.

“It may be hard and sometimes tough to understand, but it’s necessary to take the time and, at any rate, not to sacrifice our interests under the pressure of a calendar.”

Fishing in British territorial waters remains a stumbling block whose size outweighs its economic contribution, possibly because of the symbolism of Britain being an island, seeking to control the waters separating it from the European mainland.

Fishing employs less than 0.1 percent of the workforce and according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, in 2018 contributed 784 million pounds ($1.011 billion) to the UK economy. By contrast, in 2018 Britain’s video games industry had almost twice as many employees and was worth in excess of $1.352 billion, and Britain’s financial services sector is worth $178 billion.

Boats from EU countries currently have access to British territorial waters, and account for around $796 million worth of catches out of a total yield of $1.014 billion.

The EU’s most recent offer for continued access was to hand over 25 percent of its catch, worth around $199 million a year, but Britain is thought to want closer to 60 percent.

“Our door is open, we’ll keep talking but I have to say things are looking difficult,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week. “We hope that our EU friends will see sense and come to the table with something themselves, because that’s really where we are.”

But Brussels’ bargaining efforts have not gone down well with the European fishing industry. Gerard van Balsfoort, chairman of the European Fisheries Alliance, said the terms were hugely damaging.

“The shape of a deal, as currently stands, would give a huge blow to the European seafood sector which is made up more than 18,000 fishermen and 3,500 vessels,” he said.

“In spite of repeated promises made, we are in the throes of being sold down the river with the offer made to the UK by the European Commission, the more so when the fisheries negotiations with the UK are intended to start all over again after only six or seven years.”