The fifth round of talk between the UK and the EU got underway yesterday, Monday, June 29, and is continuing for the remainder of the week – after four previous rounds of very little progress.

The two parties have until the end of this year – December 31, 2020 – to get a trade deal essentially ‘signed, sealed and delivered’. At that date, the transition period set out in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement will end.

If that date comes and there is no trade deal in place, tariffs would apply to goods traded between the EU and UK – including agri-food produce from Ireland.

The EU is in favour of extending the transition period to allow for more time to hammer out a deal. However, despite Covid-19 causing serious disruption to the negotiation progress, the UK seems to be ‘sticking to its guns’ and is not willing to entertain the idea of an extension.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1 this morning, Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness stressed: “We have to believe what has been said at all levels by the British government, that they intend to leave the transition period by the end of this year, and will not seek any extension of that deadline in order to complete an agreement.”

McGuinness highlighted that, in a conference call last week between UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the heads of various EU institutions, Johnson was “certainly not indicating any desire to give more time to the process”.

“I think we have to work to the deadline that we now face, which, given the enormity of what is on the table, is quite difficult, and [it’s] ambitious to think we can reach an agreement based on the Political Declaration the two sides agreed to – but that is the case as of now,” the Ireland Midlands-North West MEP said.

The most recent rounds of talks have taken place over video conferencing, due to Covid-19. There are plans to hold face-to-face talks next month, and it is generally hoped on all sides that this will make negotiations easier than they have recently been.

The last round of talks ended on June 5 last. Speaking afterwards, the EU’s lead negotiator on trade-deal talks, Michel Barnier, said: “We can only take note that there has been no substantial progress since the beginning of these negotiations, and that we cannot continue like this forever. Especially given the United Kingdom’s continued refusal to extend the transition period.”

The EU official claimed that the UK was not living up to its side of the Political Declaration, which was agreed between the two side in tandem with the Withdrawal Agreement, and which sets out the ‘future relationship’ between the EU and UK.

“This document is available in all languages, including English. It is a good read, if I may say so. This declaration was negotiated with and approved by Prime Minister [Boris] Johnson. It is – and it will remain for us – the only valid reference, the only relevant precedent in this negotiation. Yet, round after round, our British counterparts seek to distance themselves from this common basis,” Barnier had remarked.