The British national flag is lowered down outside the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, on Jan. 31, 2020. The United Kingdom's withdrawal agreement will enter into force upon the UK's exit from the EU on Friday night, ending the country's 47-year membership. (Xinhua/Zheng Huansong)
According to Phinnemore, the fact that the EU has not walked away from talks over a post-Brexit trade deal means that they "clearly want to have an agreement with the UK."
LONDON, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- Even before the end of the latest round of trade talks between Britain and the European Union (EU) on Friday, the EU has launched legal proceedings against the island country as the British government refused to ditch plans to override parts of the Brexit divorce deal.
But according to David Phinnemore, professor of European politics at Queen's University Belfast, a trade deal is still possible as the two sides have refrained from walking away from the negotiating table.
LEGAL ACTION, NO SURPRISE
According to Phinnemore, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government should not be surprised by the EU's position to pursue legal action.
"First off, if you're going to break the terms of an agreement you've completed with the EU and there are mechanisms in place for either side to respond to infringement, then you must fully expect the other side to use those measures," Phinnemore told Xinhua.
"I think they may have been surprised as to how willingly the EU wants to use them. And also possibly some of the backlash that it's been faced in terms of the reaction to the prospect of the UK not meeting its international legal obligations," he added.
A deadline set out by the EU for the British government to remove sections of the Internal Market Bill expired on Wednesday. Observers say the "letter of formal notice" could eventually lead to a court case against Britain at the European Court of Justice.
But according to Phinnemore, the fact that the EU has not walked away from talks over a post-Brexit trade deal means that they "clearly want to have an agreement with the UK".
"The EU doesn't want to collapse the negotiations. But at the same time, it wants to ensure that the UK is meeting its commitments, its obligations towards the EU, as the nuclear option would have been to stop the negotiations, but there was no need to do that because you've got the infringement proceeding, pro-impeachment proceedings available to you," Phinnemore said.
"I think it's following due process what was provided for in the agreement, and in doing so reminding the UK of its obligations and expectations but at the same time, not collapsing the talks on the UK-EU trade relationship."
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen makes a statement on the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement between the EU and the UK, in Brussels, Belgium, Oct. 1, 2020. The European Union (EU) launched an infringement procedure against the United Kingdom (UK) on Thursday over a contentious bill that allegedly breaches the Brexit deal reached by the two sides in January 2020. (Xinhua)
Despite a lack of a major breakthrough in the trade talks, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Johnson have agreed to a video conference call on Saturday to "take stock" of negotiations and "discuss next steps".
Phinnemore said that he believes that these talks are significant.
"At some point, during any set of negotiations, which are highly technical, you'll reach the point where you need to bring in the principles to try and unlock the issues on which there continues to be an impasse. And it's always been anticipated that at some point, you would have to bring in the prime minister and someone from the EU side," he said.
"I think what's important is the fact that we're running up against a deadline, time is running out," he said. "If there has to be an agreement for the end of October, middle of November, then you probably need to get the political decisions that will create the space for the technical negotiations to be drawn to conclusion, you need those big decisions taken sooner rather than later."
SENSE OF URGENCY
Britain and the EU ended the last round of formal talks in Brussels on Friday. Britain's Chief Negotiator David Frost said Friday that outlines of a trade agreement with the European Union (EU) are "visible" while in some areas familiar differences still remain.
State subsidy and fisheries remain two sticking points for the Britain-EU talks. Frost said there has been some "limited progress" in the level-playing field but the EU needs to move further before an understanding can be reached.
Frost's EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, said there are "positive new developments" on some topics, but he warned there is "a lack of progress" on some important topics like the protection of personal data, climate change commitments or carbon pricing, as well as persistent serious divergences on matters of major importance for the EU.
Meanwhile, London and Brussels have agreed to continue talks over the next two weeks ahead of the critical EU summit on Oct. 15.
"If the UK government is serious about getting a deal, it's got to get that political agreement on the terms of that within the next week, 10 days, if you're going to keep the timetable whereby the agreement is in place for the first of January, so there is a genuine sense of urgency here," Phinnemore said.
Britain and the EU started the lengthy and bumpy post-Brexit talks in March after Britain ended its EU membership on Jan. 31, trying to secure a future trade deal before the Brexit transition period expires at the end of the year. If there is no deal in place, Britain will trade with the EU on terms of the World Trade Organization.
A vehicle moves past a billboard in Jonesborough, Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom, on Jan. 31, 2020. The United Kingdom will leave the European Union (EU) on Jan. 31, 2020. (Photo by Paul McErlane/Xinhua)