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'Time is very short' Britain says as EU's Barnier heads to London

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Britain said on Monday (26 October) that time was very short to bridge the significant remaining gaps on key issues in talks with the European Union, as EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier heads to London to continue negotiations, write and

The United Kingdom left the European Union in January but the two sides are trying to clinch a deal that would govern nearly a trillion dollars in annual trade before a transition period of informal membership ends on 31 December.

After a brief hiatus when London walked away from the negotiating table, both sides are now meeting daily to try to find common ground.

At stake is the smooth flow of cross-border trade as well as the harder-to-quantify damage that a chaotic exit would do to areas such as security information sharing and research and development cooperation.

“There is much work to be done if we’re going to bridge what are the significant gaps that remain between our positions in the most difficult areas and time is very short,” Johnson’s spokesman said.

Barnier and his EU team will be in London until Wednesday, after which talks will switch to Brussels and continue through the weekend, an EU spokesperson said.

EU diplomats were not expected to be briefed on progress in the latest batch of talks until later in the week.

Johnson told reporters he was very glad to be talking with the EU again, but offered no new clues on the likelihood of a deal: “We’ll see where we go.”

Since talks restarted last week, British ministers have said real progress has been made and that there is a good chance of a deal. On Sunday, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, Leo Varadkar, said a deal to avoid tariffs and quotas was likely.

After some progress on competition guarantees including state aid rules, the hardest issue remains fishing - Johnson has insisted on taking back control over Britain’s waters while the EU wants access.

Although Britain insists it can prosper without a deal, British companies are facing a wall of bureaucracy that threatens chaos at the border if they want to sell into the world’s biggest trading bloc when life after Brexit begins on 1 January.

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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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