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Don't ignore your health concerns. Our expert team is ready to help. Now, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has spent his morning briefing EU member states on the latest Brexit talks ahead of the resumption of negotiations today. Thomas Byrne, minister of state for European Affairs, unfolded. For me, the east is on the line to update us on the latest developments.


Thomas, good morning. Good morning. The word is not good at the moment. No, it's not.


And I think I agree with what my colleague Simon Coveney said, that, you know, gloomy and downbeat are the words. And I think there was some media activity last night about a possible fisheries deal. But I have to say, listening to what Michel Barnier told our ambassador and all of the other EU ambassadors, and there are a lot of issues still there to be discussed and we are at a difficult stage in the negotiations.


And even if there is some sort of a deal cobbled together, there is no way. I mean, Boris Johnson has to get it through one parliament and the House of Lords, and he can do that. He's got the machinery, irrespective of what the Lords may do. He's got the machinery to get it through. Michel Barnier has dozens of parliaments or administrations to get it through. And it could be a very tall order if there is any compromise that doesn't suit one.


I mean, I'd be saying to to Simon Coveney waived the veto around because, you know, if they start messing around with the Northern Ireland protocol, it's utterly unacceptable to us in the same way as Macron waived his veto around last week.


Yeah, well, I think in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol, first of all, it's important to remember that's agreed. But I think if you're asking about the internal market bill and the provisions and if those clauses go back in and stay in because they could get back analysis of the protocol. But what I say part on that is that I think every single EU member state and the European Parliament are at one on that. It wouldn't be necessary for Ireland to say, hang on, we're going to veto this because nobody would conclude a deal with the United Kingdom on that basis.


None of the EU member states and certainly not the European Parliament. And that's been very, very clear. And these two bits of legislation are passed this week. That's it.


Game over.


Look, whatever, however tenuous they are, if these two bits of legislation are passed in Westminster, it's over.


Well, certainly that's the view. And that was the view, I think, among ambassadors speaking this morning with Michel Barnier that that would present a big difficulty. However, the game is never over until the 21st of December. Let's let's be clear about that. However, things are, I suppose, reaching a crescendo. Now we're coming to the European Council meeting, which is happening this week. Obviously, those pieces of legislation are back in the House of Commons.


We can't ignore that. And so we've got to make sure if there's going to be an agreement that it happens today or tomorrow, it won't it won't necessarily go to every single national parliament that will go up to all of the European leaders and the European Parliament and the House of Commons. But that still is obviously a job to be done. But I think I think it's fair to say that, you know, various countries have various interests. We're actually aligned with the French on fish.


I mean, fish is obviously a big interest to us, the French and all of the other countries that are on that chair, that Northcoast that with Britain as well. And so so that is a huge issue for us, for us. And I would say this, there are significant difficulties remaining with regard to fish. And I'm not sure where the optimism was coming last night because certainly there were reports when Michel Barnier into considerable detail this morning with ambassadors about the difficulties with fish.


So some of those reports, I can say, were simply not accurate at the time.


I mean, we could be looking at fish was the way there. They had cod wars with Iceland years and years ago.


And I mean, the option is there for, you know, Europe is suffering from the pandemic, but they could starve themselves of a little fish for a while and let it rot on British ports because they need to sell it into Europe at a price that people are prepared to pay or they're doomed as a fishing fleet.


I mean, who are they going to sell it to? The Icelanders don't want it.


The Norwegians don't want it. It's a long way to New Zealand and they have plenty of fish in the Southern Ocean. It's a long way to Australia. Who are they going to send it to? The Russians?


Well, you've put it in more colorful language than I probably could, but that's a question I've been asking myself. I mean, obviously, and the issue of fishing boat and the flag on a boat has the has aspects of sovereignty, a symbolic of sovereignty. But you're right, a huge amount of fish caught by British boats is not eaten in Britain at all and is exported. But I mean, the other point that I've made, as well as British sheep industry, I think, is what double the fish industry?


And I think almost all of that is exported to the European Union as well and would have considerable tariffs the in the event of a.D.A. So I have to think that these things are going through Boris Johnson's mind. But it's simply not about the flag on a fishing boat, but it's about the practical economic reality and and the issue that fishing level playing field corporate governance is not just a negotiation we put together, but they are actually relations. So so I would have to think that Boris Johnson said and that would push him towards an agreement.


I've always thought.


Are you sure about that? Because I. We'll talk to Rafael. How he is not he's not a detail man, you see, it's all about waving flags and shouting slogans and he's very colorful in the way he speaks about deals being offered ready and, you know, warming up the oven. And all we have to do is pop it in and out. It will come. And it didn't happen that way. So he's good on the sloganeering and the phrase making, but we're told that he's not a detail man.


Yeah, I don't think you have to know too much of the detail to realize that the British fishing fleet depends on export markets in the European Union. I mean, you don't have to know the details of negotiations.


But I think I think I think most politicians and you might criticise politicians, but the vast majority of politicians when they go into the negotiation of this, will try to have the best interest of the public at the foremost of the mind of the best interests of their own country. And I have to think that the best interests of Britain with the deal, because the consequences for the motor industry, for their food imports and exports as not just exporting, but the cost of imports as well because of food shortages, are listed by the government as a possible possibility by the British government medicine shortages that are already talked about having to fly the vaccine.


Not all of these issues will be resolved by a deal. And I think that's an important message as well, that a deal is much better. And we believe essentially it is not a panacea that Britain's left the single market and the customs union no matter what happens. So importers and exporters are going to have a lot more paperwork as a minimum trading with the island of Great Britain.


So I think I mean, I can understand that the British think, you know, that they have a trump card in fish because, you know, if it comes to cars, for example, well, Nissan can just decide we'll build a factory in France or build a factory and in the Czech Republic to replace one in the UK, the same with farm, the same with any manufactured goods.


You can't move the seas. So they'll be saying this is our fish. If you want it, you play by our rules.


But there are so many other things. Fish is such a small proportion of what the UK exports. If it gets down and dirty, I mean, it could be catastrophic for the British economy.


Well, clearly the Nissan factory in Sunderland is many, many times more economically important than the important fishing community. And I would say about fishes and this this applies to us as well. Numerically, it's not huge, but it is absolutely crucial in certain parts of the country. And I just want to assure fishers, our fishing communities listening to this, that that's very much at the top of our mind as well, how important it is in many parts of the country.


That is the case. However, economically, things like the British car industry are on Sunderland, which would be close to some of these fishing communities by Boris Johnson. Try to impact the closure of the Nissan factory in Sunderland would have a massive impact on not just on Sunderland, but on all the fishing communities as well, because I know that there are people from those communities working in a car factory. So again, I have to think that all of this is going through Boris Johnson's mind and that the negotiations are tough.


However, however, there's no doubt that the detail that Michel Barnier went into with with our ambassadors this morning in Brussels and would certainly make you wonder whether a deal was possible, because there are a lot of issues there remaining that that need to be read. And frankly, some of them are incomprehensible. But look, let's let's just see what happens today. And the principles are going to talk tonight. Boris Johnson, or of underline, there is progress, I would say, on the notwithstanding the internal market and that shadow hanging over everything.


There is progress on the on the on the protocol on Northern Ireland in terms of its implementation. And my provision and Michael Gove are meeting today. And that, I hope, will be almost a culmination of a huge amount of work that has happened over the last few weeks that has been very positive in that respect. That would be even more positive if a trade deal were to be agreed.


But nothing is agreed until everything is agreed with the Northern Ireland and Portugal is agreed.


It doesn't make any difference if if the if we end up with this situation where basically the deal cannot be reached, surely the Northern Ireland protocol cannot continue.


No, that's not the case. That's absolutely not the case. But it's fundamentally incorrect to say that the Northern Ireland protocol is part of the broad agreement. Britain and the EU have already agreed that that was fully agreed last year. And now, in fact, this is legislation that's going to be brought in, could make nonsense of it.


Well, it won't necessarily make nonsense of it. It is obviously a breach of the withdrawal agreement. But I do have to say this, that the last few weeks there has been huge effort ongoing to implement it because implementing any agreement would include a trade agreement is always difficult. But that has been very positive in the last few weeks and we're almost there on that. Clearly, the internal market is a huge challenge to the operation of that, and it's also a huge threat to the forming of a trade agreement.


But I could be absolutely clear there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland. It would be free to move goods. You'll be free to move yourself north and south be. There'll be no issue with regard to that. So even though we might fall at the last hurdle with the trade deal. The U.K., i.e., Northern Ireland would be free to dump stuff into the EU, i.e. the Republic of Ireland without hindrance, is that is that basically what you're saying?


No, no.


They won't be free to to to move items that are intended to be subject to the protocol and to the withdrawal agreement. And they've been in terms of how they plan to do that and make sure that the single market is protected. They've actually been working very, very closely with the European Union over the last number of weeks and months. So I'm happy that that will not be an issue. Mm hmm.


All right, Thomas, I commend your optimism on that one area of this whole thing. But thank you very much for joining us. Rafael Baer, political columnist with The Guardian, is on the line. You've been listening to that conversation.


Rafael, good morning. Good morning.


So how do you read it? I mean, we're talking about which side will blink if there is to be a deal, and it doesn't look like either side is prepared to blink.


No, that one thing I would add to the conversation you've just had is an important difference in the type of negotiation that's going on around Fash, which you talked about there, and the other issues which are about sort of competition or what we call the level playing field. And that is very important because the negotiation is really hard, obviously, but ultimately, it's quite a simple concept. It's like haggling over, you know, when you buy a car, you know, someone will say 80, the other person will say 20, then 60, then 40.


And you can try and get towards 50/50 in terms of quotas and volumes of fish to the different sides have access to. I'm not saying it's easy to achieve, but it's actually quite simple. The thing is, I think more problematic is the level playing field stuff, the idea of how much the UK is expected to make and follow European standards and norms and how automatic that should be and what powers Brussels would have to say. Well, you've broken the rules.


So there's some kind of automatic sanction because that crosses this line, this Boris Johnson red line of sovereignty. And ultimately, he does have quite an ideological understanding of that. And I think that's much harder to get the UK side, as it were, to blink on, not least because anything that he does, any. Mm. That he now moves further on that issue will make it really hard for him to sell the deal to his own MPs and and really to himself.


And I was very interested in the conversation you were having a moment ago about what goes on inside Boris Johnson's head, which is none of us really knows, and whether he's really acting in the interests of the country. And if he's thinking about the economics of it, then obviously he'd do that little compromise and get the deal. I think no one really doubts. He looks at the economics of it dispassionately. No one doubts that doing a deal is in the interests of the UK.


But he's got a whole different set of political calculations where the interest is his own survival, his own reputation with regard to his party and how he's viewed by the large minority of very, very hard core Brexit supporters who see any compromises treason. So that's where his calculation is focused, I think.


Yeah, one of my Newstalk texture's here says Johnson has to be engaged in a game of chicken. He should have been lodged in the direction of a deal by a coalition of the CEOs of the large multinationals. They have more economic power than any other body. I suppose they have been trying to mitigate the effects of Brexit and encouraging a trade deal. But you're saying that the politics trumps all?


I think a lot of businesses feel they've been shut out of the conversation. I think there was a long period where businesses didn't want to do anything publicly or be seen to take sides in what was essentially a political argument, partly because if you're a commercial enterprise, you've got a brand to think about and you don't want to alienate your potential market by appearing to be, as it were, a remainer if you're trying to sell things to levers, crudely speaking.


So there was a real allergy against going public saying, come on, UK government, sort yourselves out, you've got to do the deal. And in private, they were finding it quite hard to get through. So they were making representations to the department for business. They were making representations to the Treasury. But if ultimately that decision is made by Boris Johnson and you know, and he's listening mainly to well before Dominic Cummings left, number 10, Dominic Cummings, also David Frost, his chief negotiator, who takes a very hard line on this sovereignty issue.


There is this question of who's actually getting through, who can go through the last door to the final office in No.10 and say to the prime minister, you absolutely have to listen to these people. This economic issue is the one that should be guiding your decisions. And a lot of people have wanted to what extent the Chancellor Sunako is communicating that message. We hear that sort of privately he is, but he doesn't want to be seen to be doing that, too, conspicuously because he's also a Tory.


And he also worries about what Tory MP think. Should he be doing that more forcefully? Has he been doing it privately, more forcefully? That's hard to know.


Do you think that some of these obstacles are artificial? I mean, as you say, the fishing is a haggling business, the fishermen based on the island of Britain need to sell their stuff into Europe. Europe wants certain access for boats and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. That's a haggle in terms of standards. You know, they don't want to be seen to be following the E.U. standards.


But, you know, you always hark back to the old British standards, Mark. Goods need that to to sell the seat, mark the European market goods needed that. If they didn't have it coming from third countries, they didn't get to sell their stuff in the British marketplace with standards about lead in toys and all those kind of things, it doesn't seem beyond the bounds of possibility that they would agree, you know, you can't sell Product X in our market unless it adheres to our standards.


And that works both ways.


The Europeans can sell stuff in the British market unless it adheres to standards, and I can't imagine that those standards would be very different.


Well, know and what the UK side has been arguing is a little bit better, where they start is literally the same because we've been an EU member for 30 years. But the issue is the way the EU looks at it, they're not thinking about what happens on the 1st of January or the first of February or even 2022 23. They're thinking about the whole of the future and what happens if you give, you know, free from the Brussels point of view, if you allow the UK to say, look, there's some flex here, the standards match, so we'll just deal with divergence at some point in the future.


You're opening a door through which the UK in 10, 15, 20 years time could be undermining EU standards and selling into the single market. And what the UK side doesn't really seem to understand on this point is the dynamic here is just a function of the different sizes of the markets. It's just gravity and any trade deal that the UK, one medium sized country wants to do with the EU. A continent sized bloc will always involve some surrender of sovereignty on this particular issue, because ultimately it is within the power of the EU to say, well, you want to be part of that.


You want to sell into the single market. These are the standards. And the UK, David Frost and Boris Johnson, they don't seem to have really taken on board because it's almost a kind of a religious fervor that they have about sovereignty. They don't seem to have taken on board that one way or another. That is the compromise you're going to have to make to access the single market.


And we all make those compromises, all countries do going into new markets. They have to adhere to the standards set by those markets. Rafael, thank you very much for your take on this. It's down to politics at the end of the day of the survival perhaps of the person, but also the reputation of Boris Johnson. Rafael Bauer, political columnist with The Guardian, thank you very much for joining us.


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