Will the human rights convention sink a Brexit trade deal?
Michel Barnier says ‘very serious divergences’ have emerged in first week of EU-UK talk
While the world has been watching the coronavirus, the first week of Brexit trade talks has wrapped up. The first of many, many rounds appears to have been a broadly cordial affair, even if not much progress has been made. While the obvious points of contention between the UK and EU are now well known — fishing and level-playing field, for example — another wrinkle has emerged: the European Convention on Human Rights.
The split on the ECHR has worried the Brussels negotiators. Mr Barnier said it is a “serious” and “grave” concern for the bloc because “if the United Kingdom’s position does not move, it will have an immediate and concrete effect on the level of ambition of our co-operation which will remain based on international conventions but will not be as ambitious as we wish”.
Already, we are back once again to fundamental differences in perspective about what a Brexit trade deal is about. As David Frost, Mr Johnson’s chief negotiator, articulated in a recent speech, the UK wants to regain as much sovereignty as possible through leaving the EU. He does not want to sign up to the ECJ or ECHR in a treaty. The UK wants the ability to choose and do things differently. For Frost, Johnson and Cummings, this is what Brexit is all about.