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Deal on EU-UK relations 'must not compromise EU values'

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In a debate on 21 October, MEPs stressed the need to reach an agreement on EU-UK future relations that does not compromise EU interests and values.

Reporting to Parliament on the outcome of the 15-16 October summit, European Council President Charles Michel said that the EU welcomes a close relationship with the UK, but not in a scenario where the UK wants access to the single market and at the same time diverges from EU standards and regulations. “You can’t have your cake and eat it,” he said.

Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said that the EU will continue pursuing a deal that is mutually beneficial. "The European Union's attitude to these negotiations has in no way shifted and will not shift, not up until the very last day and not even then. We will remain calm, constructive and respectful, but we will also remain firm and determined when it comes to defending the principles and the interests of each of the EU member states and the EU itself."

Withdrawal agreement must be fully respected

MEPs stressed the importance of reaching an agreement without compromising the EU’s interests and values. Iratxe García Pérez (S&D, Spain) said that an agreement should not be reached at all costs: “Mr Barnier, you have the support of the S&D family in your final efforts to achieve the best possible relations with the UK. However, let’s not do it at the cost of sacrificing, for example, the internal market. We shouldn’t accept distorted state aid or social and environmental dumping.”

Ska Keller (Greens/EFA) agreed. Despite there being little time to reach an agreement because the UK government has decided to not ask for an extension to the Brexit transition period, "we cannot accept a deal that would endanger the single market, social rights or environmental standards", she said.

Dacian Cioloș (Renew Europe, Romania) said the future of EU-UK relations has reached a “critical point” and called on the UK to stop using “delaying tactics”. The EU wants and needs a strong partnership with the UK, but for that to happen, the UK must be “a serious partner”, he said. “We will not ratify any trade deal as long as the withdrawal agreement is not fully respected, especially the protocol on Northern Ireland.”

Derk Jan Eppink (ECR, Netherlands) focused on the situation of the fishing industry in case of a no-deal Brexit. "When it comes to fisheries I think that the positions of the two sides is particularly distant.” If there is no agreement, bilateral negotiations must be possible, especially for small countries with a significant fishing sector, he said.

Nicolas Bay (ID, France) was of the view that a no-deal Brexit would be much worse for the EU than for the UK. "Brussels' position has always been to punish the British people" for their decision to leave, he said.

COVID-19 recovery plan

MEPs also discussed other issues tackled by EU leaders during the 15-16 October summit, including the pandemic and long-term budget.

“The developments of recent days have shown that the corona crisis is not a short-term crisis,” said Siegfried Mureșan (EPP, Romania), reiterating his group's commitment to a quick approval of the EU long-term budget and recovery fund to ensure they can be in place on 1 January 2021.

The severity of the Covid-19 crisis makes a more ambitious EU budget necessary to protect public health, society and the economy, Dimitris Papadimoulis (GUE/NGL, Greece) said. "Stop bullying the European Parliament by accusing us, through fake news, of being the ones blocking an agreement. In order to have an agreement, the Council has to move towards Parliament's position."

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Sunak says he hopes for a Brexit deal but not at any price

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British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak has said there is genuine progress in Brexit talks with the European Union, but that it would be better to walk away from a bad trade deal than tie Britain’s hands in the future, writes Kate Holton.

Sunak, one of the few members of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s senior ministerial team to have emerged from the COVID pandemic with an enhanced reputation, was thought to be one of the leading voices in the cabinet who wanted a free trade deal with the EU.

He told the Sunday Times that he hoped Britain and the European Union would secure an agreement.

“Every day I am reviewing bits of text, so there is genuine progress,” he said. “Certainly, it would be preferable to have a deal.”

But he added: “The major impact on our economy is the coronavirus. It’s absolutely not (a question of doing) a deal at any price.

“If we don’t get a deal, why is that? It is because they are refusing to compromise on what are some completely reasonable and very transparent principles that we’ve laid out from the beginning. We are not asking for super-special treatment.”

The two sides have been locked in talks for months and, while officials say they have made progress in the last few days, a substantial amount still needs to be done for an agreement to be in place and ratified by the year-end deadline.

Sunak gave the interview ahead of a spending review on Wednesday when he will set out the government’s spending over the next year, after COVID-19 blew a £200 billion ($266bn) hole in Britain’s finances.

He said he hoped that, by next spring, he would be able to start thinking beyond the current need to support the economy and jobs, and considering how he could return the public finances to a sustainable level.

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Brexit deal still snagged on three main issues, EU envoys told

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The EU and Britain are very close to agreement on most issues as time runs out for a trade deal but they are still at odds over fishing rights, guarantees of fair competition and ways to solve future disputes, an EU official told ambassadors in Brussels, write  and

“We are both close and far away. It seems that we are very close to agreement on most issues but differences on the three contentious issues persist,” a senior EU diplomat said after ambassadors were briefed on Friday by an EU negotiator.

The chief Brexit negotiators suspended direct talks on Thursday after a member of the EU team tested positive for COVID-19, but officials continued working remotely to clinch an EU-UK trade deal that would come into force in just six weeks.

A second EU diplomat said of the three main sticking points between negotiators: “They still need their time. Some things on the level playing field have moved, albeit very very slowly. Fisheries are not really moving anywhere right now.”

An EU official, who is directly involved in the talks with UK: “Both of these are still very stuck.”

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EU makes final push to reach an agreement with the UK

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Asked about progress on negotiations between the EU and UK on their future relationship, Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said the negotiations were intensifying with a final push being made to reach an agreement. 

Chief negotiator Michel Barnier updated European commissioners at their meeting today (18 November). Dombrovskis said there were still important elements to be resolved.

Dombrovskis said that the European Union had seen many deadlines come and go, but added that there is one deadline which was not moveable, 1 January 2021, when the transition period ends. 

He added that the European Commission would continue to work intensively towards the goal of reaching an agreement with the UK.

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