Negotiations between the UK and the EU on their future relationship beyond 31 December 2020 started on Monday 2 March 2020. Both parties have now published their respective terms for a trade and partnership agreement.
On 19 May, the UK Government published a 291-page draft comprehensive free trade agreement and another nine documents outlining specific issues concerning the future relationship. The EU Commission had published its draft text of the "Agreement on the New Partnership" (440 pages strong) shortly after the start of the negotiations on 18 March.
The scope and number of these documents alone highlights the fundamental and key issue of difference between the parties: while the EU wants to agree on an overarching comprehensive deal that covers all aspects of the future relationship, the UK is proposing separate treaties on specific issues to be negotiated individually. Sitting alongside the "DRAFT UK-EU Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (CFTA)", the UK has therefore published the following individual draft agreements:
- DRAFT Fisheries Framework Agreement
- DRAFT Air Transport Agreement
- DRAFT Civil Aviation Safety Agreement
- DRAFT Energy Agreement
- DRAFT Social Security Coordination Agreement
- DRAFT Civil Nuclear Agreement
- DRAFT Agreement on Law Enforcement and Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters
- DRAFT Agreement on the transfer of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children
- DRAFT Agreement on the readmission of people residing without authorisation
The recently published UK draft agreement(s) and the subsequent exchange of letters between the UK's chief EU negotiator David Frost, and his European counterpart Michel Barnier highlight the distance between the two sides of the negotiations (Mr Frost's letter can be found here, Monsieur Barnier's reply can be found here).
Not just are there significant differences in approach to specific issues, for example on fisheries (while the EU is looking for a continuous application of the principle of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy and its Total Allowable Catch system based on a fixed percentage split agreed in a trade deal, the UK is pushing for annual negotiations on access to UK and EU waters and if agreement was not reached in any given year a temporary halt of fishing rights); the letters exchanged last week between the parties are also of a noticeably "more formal" tone.
It remains to be seen if the negotiators will be able to settle their differences ahead of the high-level conference that is expected in June to take stock of progress (any extension of the transition period would have to be agreed before 1 July; however, the UK Government has repeatedly said that an extension beyond 31 December was off the table).