‘Chaos’ at the heart of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government could present another barrier to an agreement on an EU-UK post-Brexit trade deal, a senior EU political leader warned on Friday (13 November).
Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament, blamed internal battles in Boris Johnson’s private office as Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s chief advisor and mastermind of the Vote Leave campaign in 2016, quit following a bitter power struggle between Downing Street advisors.
An EU summit has been set on 19 November as the new deadline for leaders to agree on a post-Brexit trade pact, but Weber remained cautious.
“We can also see this as a quite chaotic situation where we don’t have an idea what is really the line in Great Britain,” Weber told BBC radio on Friday.
“So don’t tell us we should be ready for compromise,” Weber added.
Green MEP Phillipe Lamberts, a member of the EU Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group, said that Cumming’s departure was “probably the sign that Johnson has begun his U-turn and will, in the end, accept EU conditions”.
Cummings was credited with engineering the manoeuvres that saw Johnson finalise the UK’s exit from the EU in January after a snap general election in December. But his credibility was badly damaged by revelations that he had broken the lockdown rules in May by driving to his parents’ farm, and by his subsequent refusal to apologise or resign.
Earlier this week, the prime minister’s communications director, Lee Cain, also a leading member of the Vote Leave campaign, resigned after plans to appoint him as Chief of Staff met stiff opposition from Conservative MPs and Johnson’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds, a former Conservative party media adviser.
The confusion in Johnson’s advisory team has prompted speculation that the UK premier might request a short extension to the post-Brexit transition period, currently due to expire on 31 December, although this was quickly rejected as “simply false” by a Downing Street spokesman.
“The government’s position in relation to the future trade agreement negotiations is unchanged,” the spokesman added, though he conceded that time was “in short supply”.
Michel Barnier’s EU negotiating team will leave London on Friday and resume talks with UK counterpart David Frost in Brussels on Monday. If a text is not agreed at the EU leaders’ summit on 19 November, the prospects of any deal being ratified before the end of the year will become increasingly slim.
In that case, the UK and the EU would revert to trading on basic World Trade Organisation terms, which would mean trade tariffs on both sides.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]