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EU tells UK to say how long it will align with EU financial rules

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Britain must spell out how far it wants to diverge from European Union rules if it wants access to the bloc’s financial market from January, a top European Commission official said on Tuesday (27 October), writes

Britain has left the EU and access under transition arrangements ends on 31 December. Future access for the City of London hinges on UK financial rules staying aligned or “equivalent” to regulation in the bloc.

John Berrigan, head of the European Commission’s financial services unit, said Brussels has asked London for more clarification on Britain’s intentions to work out what is an “acceptable level” of divergence.

“We are almost ready,” Berrigan told the European Parliament.

“There will be divergence... but we have to get some mutual understanding of how much divergence is likely to happen, and is that going to be sufficient to allow us to maintain an equivalence arrangement.”

Brussels has granted temporary access for UK clearing houses, but chunks of stock and derivatives trading would move from London to the bloc without equivalence.

Separately, Britain and the EU are discussing a trade deal which would contain only limited references to financial services to avoid tying the bloc’s hands, Berrigan said.

“We see our regulatory co-operation in the financial services field outside the agreement,” he said.

It would consist of a “forum” similar to what the bloc has with the United States to assess potential divergence in rules ahead of time, he said.

“What we don’t want is an equivalence regime that is constantly under threat,” he said.

“We will need at the outset the direction of travel the UK want to go... so we don’t have to keep talking in emergencies about whether equivalence can be maintained or not.”

Britain has said that while it won’t weaken its high regulatory standards, it won’t be a “rule taker” or copy every EU regulation word-for-word to obtain market access.

Berrigan said market participants are generally ready for the “unavoidably fragmenting event” that full Brexit will be in January.

No trade deal would make future cooperation in financial services far more challenging, he added.

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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