“No significant areas of progress” in latest Brexit talks.

“No significant areas of progress” in latest Brexit talks.

The UK government remains firmly set against any extension to the transition period, regardless of the Covid crisis and Michel Barnier’s comments that “our door is open” to a one or two-year delay, writes Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain.
 
Before the EU/UK trade negotiations started last week, the political grandstanding had already begun. 

Throughout the trade negotiations, EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has told the UK some home truths. These include no membership benefits for non-members, no cherry-picking and no bending EU rules. Ahead of the latest talks, Barnier also reminded prime minister, Boris Johnson, of the commitments he made when signing the Withdrawal Agreement in 2019.

Specifically, Barnier told Johnson he must keep the promises of the Political Declaration (PD). The document, while not legally binding, clearly defined agreed goals for the future relationship between the UK and EU. Those commitments include maintaining a level playing field with the EU on standards, and an agreement about accessing British fishing waters.

Barnier stated: “We remember very clearly the text which we negotiated with Boris Johnson. And we just want to see that complied with, to the letter.” He went on to say: “If that does not happen, there will be no agreement.”

Before the talks had begun, the UK responded, without a hint of irony, that progress had not been made “because of the inflexible attitude shown by Mr Barnier”. A source close to lead negotiator, David Frost (below), said: “The EU needs to inject some political reality into its approach and appreciate that they cannot use their usual tactic of delay to drag the talks into the autumn. October is too late.”

UK negotiator David Frost

On Tuesday 2 June, the talks began using video conferencing links. While enabling discussion, social-distanced negotiations are no substitute for face-to-face meetings. There’s little opportunity to observe body language and no informal chats over a coffee or something stronger. It is frequently during these informal discussions that progress occurs.

To read the complete article, please head over to The Local. 

What will Brits in Spain need to get ‘settled status’?

What will Brits in Spain need to get ‘settled status’?

Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain provides some reassurance for British people resident in Spain.
 
With the British government pushing its controversial Immigration Bill through parliament last week, the focus was on the rights of EU citizens. In particular, the ruling that requires immigrants to pay into the NHS, regardless of their existing tax contributions, seems especially unfair. The government’s dramatic U-turn to remove the fee for healthcare workers was welcome, but the issue of double taxation for other EU citizens remains.

On this side of the Channel, Brits in Europe are mourning the loss of their freedom of movement rights, which enabled us to make new lives for ourselves in EU countries. Those opportunities, that we took full advantage of, are sadly being taken away from future generations. Those of us already residing here must focus on protecting the lives we’ve built.

Regarding our status in Europe, Michael Gove recently wrote to Michel Barnier. In his letter, Gove criticised the EU for being too slow to implement systems to secure future residency rights for British citizens. Gove cited the UK’s ‘settled status’ scheme for EU citizens in the UK and expressed concerns that the EU would not meet its Withdrawal Agreement obligations in a timely fashion.

For those of us living in Spain, what will be required by the Spanish authorities in order for our status to be ‘settled’?

UK Ambassador Hugh Elliott and Sue Wilson

Here’s what we know so far. Spain’s existing identity card for foreigners, known as the ‘tarjeta de identidad de extranjero’ (TIE) will replace the current documentation for British residents.  

The TIE proves legal status and is issued to foreigners authorised to stay in Spain for longer than six months. Those Brits registering for the first time will be issued with a TIE; those holding existing residency documents will be able to swap these for the TIE.

To read the article in full head over to The Local. 

Coronavirus is the perfect scapegoat, even for Brexit

Coronavirus is the perfect scapegoat, even for Brexit

Sue Wilson analyses the latest round of post-Brexit trade negotiations and the obvious need for an extension to the transition period.

A further round of trade negotiations between the UK and EU ended on Friday, without any noticeable progress.

The talks were described as “tetchy” and “disruptive” and Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator, said the UK was still wanting the “best of both worlds”.

Midweek, an unnamed EU source again raised the possibility of an extension to the transition period.

The source claimed that the UK could still secure an extension, even if it didn’t ask for one. All that’s required is for both sides to agree to extend, rather than requiring a formal request from the UK. Unsurprisingly, the UK government is sticking to its position that the transition will end on 31 December, with or without a trade deal.

Although the talks have largely been over key issues, such as fishing policy or maintaining a level playing field on standards, the rights of citizens were also discussed.

Against the background of legal action by the EU against the UK government over EU citizens’ rights, the minister for the cabinet office, Michael Gove, hit back on Thursday. In a letter to European Commission vice president, Maros Sefcovic, Gove said there was a “serious risk” that the EU would be in breach of its obligations under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA).

You can read the article in full at The Local.

UK needed an exit strategy, they got another slogan!

UK needed an exit strategy, they got another slogan!

Sue Wilson compares the mixed messages from Downing Street with the clear road map issued by the Spanish government.

This week, Spain takes another tentative step towards lifting its lockdown restrictions. Many regions are entering the new “Phase 1”, with further freedoms granted to the 51 percent of residents affected.

The relaxing of lockdown here echoes the efforts of other countries across Europe. Governments are considering what steps to take, and when. 

They are coming under increased pressure from opposition parties, business, media and public to juggle the demands of economic wealth versus public health. In some cases, not least in Britain, protecting livelihoods seems more of a priority than protecting lives.

Much as we might want a return to “business as usual”, it’s hard to see how that could happen anytime soon. We must adjust to new ways of doing everything, while remaining conscious of the health threat. As Boris Johnson might say, we must “stay alert” to the dangers.

While the message from the Spanish government about the lifting of restrictions was clear, the message from the UK government was not. For several days before Johnson’s Sunday evening announcement, the British media was full of the ‘news’ that lockdown measures were about to ease.

Mixed messaging from the British government during the coronavirus crisis is nothing new. Last weekend was no different and required minister after minister to downplay media speculation.  It seems talk of additional freedoms had been somewhat exaggerated.

Word had spread that the government was dropping its “stay at home” message, to be replaced with the new slogan, “stay alert” – whatever that’s supposed to mean. A damage limitation exercise was then required to persuade the British public to stay home during the bank holiday weekend.

You can read the article in full in The Local. 

Mixed emotions on stepping out …..

Mixed emotions on stepping out …..

As I stepped outside my front door on Saturday, after weeks of lockdown, it was with mixed emotions. Like millions of people across Spain, I was eagerly anticipating my first walk, having been no further than the rubbish bins for seven weeks. Sharing the experience with my husband was a bonus.

On a beautiful spring morning, in our beautiful village, the feeling of freedom was one I had expected. The feeling of nervousness was one I had not.

Lockdown has caused many of us to consider what we’ve most been looking forward to once restrictions are lifted. The simple pleasures in life – such as taking a stroll with my other half – rank high on my list. It never occurred to me that going for a walk might make me concerned for our safety.

 

The ways in which we’ve come to terms with lockdown – both the implementation and de-escalation – vary a lot according to our age, personal circumstance and even personality.

Those living in flats will have experienced a very different lockdown to those with gardens. The experience of city dwellers will not reflect that of those living in the countryside. Families will have reacted differently to those isolated and alone.

You can read the article in full at The Local.

Now is not the time to go it alone

Now is not the time to go it alone

On Friday April 24th, Michel Barnier held a press conference in Brussels to report on trade negotiations between the UK and EU. The virtual talks took place last week, with two further rounds of negotiations scheduled for the weeks beginning May 11th and June 1st.

Media descriptions of the EU’s reaction varied from “disappointing” to “Barnier launches a blistering attack”, with many commenting that Barnier had accused the UK of “failing to engage”.

Based on earlier Brexit negotiations, it was no surprise that the UK and EU had different approaches. The EU produced a 350-page text, which Barnier proudly presented at the press conference. The EU text covers every topic and is available online for everybody. The UK, in contrast, produced a document covering just seven areas and insisted that the content remained confidential.

Barnier stated that “our objective for tangible progress has only been partially, very partially, met this week.”

He emphasised the need to progress on all fronts and spoke of the tight timescale, which means agreements on some areas must be reached by the end of June.

Boris Johnson readily agreed to this timescale when earlier negotiations were finalised. In fact, Barnier accused Johnson of rowing back on commitments made in the Political Declaration, which was signed in conjunction the Withdrawal Agreement in winter 2019.

In a statement released later, a UK government spokesman said: “This was a full and constructive negotiating round” but tentatively agreed that progress between the two sides being “limited”.

You can read the article in full at The Local.

 

Brexit Negotiations