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EU negotiators expect to resume trade talks with UK, EU sources say

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Negotiators from the European Union travelled to London on Thursday (22 October) to resume talks with Britain, two EU sources said, a move that could mark a new push to protect billions of dollars worth of trade, write and

Both the EU and Britain have spent days calling on the other side to offer more concessions in talks, which have been all but deadlocked since the summer, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson walked away from the negotiations last week.

A no-deal finale to Britain’s five-year Brexit drama would disrupt the operations of manufacturers, retailers, farmers and nearly every other sector - just as the economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic worsens.

Earlier, European Council President Charles Michel told the European Parliament that time was “very short”.

“We stand ready to negotiate 24/7, on all subjects, on legal texts. The UK has a bit of a decision to make and it’s their free and sovereign choice,” Michel said.

He said Britain’s answer would determine its level of access to the EU’s internal market of 450 million consumers. The EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told the parliament an agreement was still “within reach”.

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“Time is of the essence...along with our British counterparts, we must find solutions to the most difficult areas,” Barnier said in comments that pushed sterling higher.

London has this week refused to continue full negotiations, saying the EU must “fundamentally change” its stance.

The EU sees this as bluff by Prime Minister Boris Johnson but has also extended an olive branch by talking up UK sovereignty, as well as the EU’s readiness to discuss intensively, across the board and on specific legal texts.

A UK spokesman said London noted “with interest” Barnier’s comments that touch “in a significant way on the issues behind the current difficulties in our talks”.

Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost had been due to speak on the phone at 14h GMT on Wednesday (21 October).

Michel stressed the 27 EU members were ready for an abrupt split without a new agreement to avoid tariffs or quotas with three main sticking points in the negotiations: fishing rights, economic fair play and settling disputes.

“We don’t need words, we need guarantees,” he said of fair competition safeguards.

Michel called for a “binding, independent arbitration” to redress market distortions swiftly, adding that London’s draft Internal Market Bill - which would undermine Britain’s earlier divorce deal with the EU - only strengthened the bloc’s resolve to ensure tight policing of any new deal.

The EU’s executive Commission said London must respect its Brexit settlement regardless of the trade talks.

Michel said losing access to British waters would damage the EU’s fishing industry, and the EU therefore wanted to prolong the status-quo just as London sought to keep the EU market open for UK companies.

“But the UK wants access to the single market while at the same time being able to diverge from our standards and regulations when it suits them,” Michel said.

Following Brexit last January, Britain’s current EU trading terms expire in 10 weeks and unfettered commerce will end without a new treaty.

Keen to avoid any blame, the bloc is ready to negotiate until mid-November but must then ratify any deal in the European Parliament before time is up.

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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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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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