As you may have noticed, Liam Fox – the UK Secretary of State for International Trade – is in Washington DC.
Poor Liam, you have to feel for him. Despite his best efforts to focus our attention on a “new and exciting chapter” in UK-US trade relations, the start of his visit has been overshadowed by the chlorine-washed chicken controversy (he cast doubt on whether Britain would continue to adhere to the EU rules banning chorlinated washed chicken after Brexit). Sounds a real delicacy.
It did get me thinking back over last week’s negotiations, where the only thing Michel Barnier and David Davis seem to have agreed on is that they are both aware of where they disagree. Neither is yet willing to budge, and if you were looking for evidence of progress, it was scant – both the UK Government & the EU look as far apart as ever on key issues. The EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said there was a “fundamental divergence” with the British negotiating team over the way that the rights of EU citizens in the U.K. would be guaranteed. Unsurprisingly the UK Government’s performance got panned both in Brussels and at home.
Now here’s the surprise – British negotiators insist they have the EU right where they want it — and are confident in their approach, despite criticism. Really? Here’s me thinking it wasn’t just EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier who is frustrated about the lack of clarity in the UK positions on the financial settlement, on citizens’ rights, on Ireland…
Of course maybe I’ve just missed some detailed papers the UK Government had published.
So, what progress has been made? The answer is not a lot. Last week’s sessions did little more than identify some common areas and expose the issues where their needs to be compromise. The difficult bit will be the process of negotiating those compromises – are both sides prepared to do it? It looks like it’s same place, same time and same subjects next month. Sounds fun doesn’t it?
You may even be forgiven for being optimistic about the next round if you thought the UK Government would have considered where their red lines really are and where they are prepared to compromise. However with a Prime Minister in office but not in power, and a Cabinet & Government in disarray, it looks unlikely.
I just hope Liam Fox takes up Open Britain’s challenge to eat a US chlorinated chicken – as far as Brexit news goes, it looks like being the only light relief we’ll get for a while.