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Brexit: Barnier says there are good prospects for a deal

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The European Council of heads of government were updated today (15 October) on EU/UK negotiations on the UK's future relationship with the EU. While some progress was noted, the EU underlined that it wanted a deal, but not at any price.

European Council President Charles Michel firstly offered his apologies for the absence of the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, who has had to self-isolate because of her contact with a member of her team who has tested positive for COVID. 

An agreement - but not at any price

Michel said that the EU was united and determined to reach an agreement, but an agreement would have to be based on the EU’s mandates, especially when it comes to the level-playing field, governance and fisheries. He gave the example of accepting cars from the UK without comparable standards and with the risk of huge subsidies, while offering the UK no tariffs and no quotas. He said that this would risk hundreds of thousands of European jobs. He called on the UK to make the necessary moves.

Withdrawal agreement must be implemented ‘full stop’

On the withdrawal agreement, Michel said that the EU expected it to be fully implemented: “full stop”, He said that this was a question of international credibility for the UK. 

A fair deal

EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier said that he was determined to reach a fair deal with the UK: “We will do everything we can, but not at any price.” He anticipates intensive discussions over the next weeks but said that the EU’s position had been crystal clear from day one of the negotiations. If you want access to our market of 450 million people, there must be a level playing field and there must be free and fair competition. 

‘Good prospects for a deal’

Barnier said he was able to report on real progress to the European Council but that there remained three subject areas where the gap is too big at the moment. Barnier added that while there were good prospects for a deal it couldn’t be done without progress on the three outstanding issues. Barnier is aiming for an agreement by the end of October. 

Asked about what the EU wanted in terms of guarantees, Barnier said that he would like to see precise principles enshrined in treaty form. The UK would also need to provide assurance on domestic enforcement, who would do the enforcing and how would they keep the EU forewarned. Another critical element will be a dispute settlement mechanism, that would allow both parties to take unilateral measures if necessary. 

UK response

While the press conference in Brussels was drawing to a close, a seemingly irate Lord Frost - Barnier's opposite number in the negotiations, fired off a series of tweets, complaining that the European Council had removed the word 'intensively' from their conclusions.

Brexit

Irish PM hopeful of Brexit trade deal outline by end of week

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Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said on Monday (23 November) that he hoped that the outline of a Brexit free trade deal will have emerged by the end of the week and urged unprepared smaller Irish exporters to get ready for change, whether there is a deal or no deal. The European Union’s Brexit negotiator said on Monday that big differences persisted but that both sides were pushing hard for a deal, as talks resumed, writes Padraic Halpin.

Moves will have to be made on some of the key issues such as fisheries and the so-called “level playing field”, Martin said. But he added that he had got a sense of progress from both negotiating teams, and that a presentation last week from EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was probably one of the more hopeful to date.

“I would be hopeful that, by the end of this week, that we could see the outlines of a deal, but that remains to be seen. It is down to political will, both in the United Kingdom and I’m clear the political will is there from the European Union,” Martin told reporters.

On a visit to Dublin port, Ireland’s largest freight and passenger port, Martin said that, while 94% of Irish importers from the UK and 97% of exporters had completed the necessary customs paperwork to continue trading with Britain, he was worried by the take-up among some small and medium-sized firms.

“The one concern I’d have is maybe there is a complacency among some SMEs out there that everything will be OK and ‘Sure if they get a deal, won’t it be OK?’. It will be different, and you have to get that into your heads,” Martin said. “The world will change and it will not be as seamless as it once was. The bottom line is you need to get ready. It is not too late, people just need to knuckle down now.”

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Johnson and EU's von der Leyen may speak this week, Times Radio reports

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the European Commission’s Ursula von der Leyen (pictured) are likely to speak later in the week as the Brexit talks get to a crunch point, the chief political commentator of Britain’s Times Radio said, writes Kate Holton.

Tom Newton Dunn said officials on both sides were setting up a phone call, or possibly even a face-to-face meeting, in what could be a pivotal moment for the free trade talks.

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EU's Barnier says 'fundamental divergences' persist in UK trade talks

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The European Union’s Brexit negotiator said on Monday that big differences persisted in trade talks with Britain but that both sides were pushing hard for a deal, writes Gabriela Baczynska.

“Time is short. Fundamental divergences still remain, but we are continuing to work hard for a deal,” said the EU negotiator, Michel Barnier (pictured). Trade negotiators resumed talks on the shape of the new EU-UK relationship after a post-Brexit standstill agreement expires on Dec. 31. As in the last few weeks, the focus was still squarely on dividing up fishing quotas and ensuring fair competition for companies, including on regulating state aid.

Face-to-face talks, suspended last week after a member of the EU delegation tested positive for the new coronavirus, will resume in London “when it is safe to do so”, said a source who follows Brexit, speaking on condition of anonymity. Another source, an EU official, added: “The differences on the level playing field and fisheries remain major.” The British The Sun newspaper reported at the weekend that the negotiators were looking at a clause that would allow a renegotiation of any new fishing arrangement in several years’ time.

An EU diplomat, a third source who spoke under condition of anonymity, confirmed that such an idea was under discussion, but added that the bloc insisted on linking it to the overall trade agreement, meaning that fishing rights could only be renegotiated together with the rest of trade rules. “We need to uphold the link between fishing and trade rules, this comes in a package,” the source said. The EU official said annual renegotiation of fishing quotas was a ‘no-go’ for the 27-nation bloc. Fisheries are a particularly sensitive issue for France.

Thierry Breton, the French representative on the European Commission, the EU executive, said last week: “We shouldn’t have in the Brexit deal revision clauses in one or two years, when everything would change again. We won’t let that happen. We need to give our entrepreneurs predictability.”

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