The EU’s ratification plans for the Brexit trade deal are in chaos amid infighting between the European Parliament and the bloc’s member states.
Simmering inter-institutional rivalry between the Council and Parliament was laid bare after senior MEPs set a deadline of midnight last Sunday for the UK-EU trade agreement to be finished.
EU diplomats from the member states made clear that negotiations would continue past the deadline and that they were prepared to sideline the parliament and “provisionally apply” the deal, if it could be agreed before the end of year deadline.
Unlike the trade deal, which MEPs said they could not ratify before December 31 unless they had the text last Sunday, provisional application does not require a European Parliament vote.
December 31 is the legal deadline for the end of the transition period and will be when the UK leaves the Single Market and Customs Union, with or without a deal.
MEPs would prefer a stand-still on current arrangements if a deal is found before the end of the year, which would last until their ratification process is complete. That could take until February.
Bernd Lange, the chair of the European Parliament’s trade committee, said, “We need transitional solutions. Extension of the transitional period would be best. But it takes two to tango. The UK would also have to agree.”
This would effectively be an extension of the transition period, which has been ruled out since July by both sides. Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, told the BBC there would “absolutely not” be an extension.
EU diplomatic sources said the MEPs had “delusions” of grandeur and stressed they were in their legal treaty rights to provisionally apply any deal.
The leaders of the European Parliament’s groups admitted they would not force a damaging no trade deal Brexit because of their missed deadline, which was never recognised by the UK.
The MEPs said the deal would not be ratified this year because there would not be enough time to scrutinise it properly.
They said they would not accept the provisional application of the deal. There is nothing the parliament can do to stop it but it would be later asked to confirm the agreement in the new year.
MEPs urged the European Commission, the third major EU institution, to broker a compromise solution with the Council. The Commission refused to comment.
Manfred Weber, the leader of the centre-Right European People’s Party, said, “Political games from Westminster have wasted too much time. It is now impossible for Parliament to assess a deal before the end of the year.
He said, “We will not rubber-stamp any text, it is too important. As the only directly elected EU body, we should not rush our decision”
“Negotiations should continue, but the European Commission must find a legal way to ensure an orderly start to 2021 without a provisional implementation,” said Iratxe Garcia Perex, the leader of the Socialist group in the parliament.
“We will remain constructive partners. Alternative procedures are possible. Council and Commission will have to find a way forward,” Mr Weber, who leads the largest group in the Brussels and Strasbourg parliament, added.
Trade negotiations continued in Brussels yesterday. Simon Conveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, said the talks were “not in a good place”.