Britain and the European Union will hold emergency talks on Thursday over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to undercut parts of the Brexit divorce treaty, a step Brussels has warned could scupper any chance of a trade deal.
After Britain explicitly stated that it would act outside international law by breaching the divorce treaty, EU negotiators are trying to gauge how to deal with London after four years of tumultuous Brexit talks.
European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic will travel to London to meet British counterpart Michael Gove for the emergency talks alongside scheduled trade talks between chief negotiators Michel Barnier and David Frost.
“The EU seeks clarifications from the UK on the full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement,” a European Commission spokesman said.
After the hectic twists and turns of the Brexit crisis, Europe’s leaders have been handed an ultimatum by Britain: accept the breach of the treaty or prepare for a messy divorce when Britain finally disentangles at the end of the year.
Britain formally left the EU on Jan. 31 but talks on a new trade deal before the end of a status-quo transition arrangement in December have snagged on state aid rules and fishing.
Without a clear trade agreement nearly $1 trillion in trade between the EU and Britain could be thrown into chaos at the beginning of the year, an economic hit neither side needs as they try to count the cost of the coronavirus crisis.
European diplomats said Britain was playing a game of Brexit chicken by threatening to collapse the process and challenging Brussels to blink first. Some fear Johnson may view a no-deal exit as useful distraction from the coronavirus crisis.