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Brexit: Barnier says there are good prospects for a deal

EU Reporter Correspondent

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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.

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UK to respond to EU legal action over Northern Ireland by mid-May

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Britain has agreed with the European Union that it will respond to the bloc’s legal action over how it has introduced new trading rules for Northern Ireland by mid-May, a spokeswoman for the government said on Wednesday (14 April), writes Elizabeth Piper.

The EU launched legal action against Britain in March for unilaterally changing trading arrangements for Northern Ireland that Brussels says are in breach of the Brexit divorce deal agreed with London last year.

Britain has denied that the move undermines the part of the Brexit deal that governs trade to the British province, saying it extended the grace period for checks on goods moving to Northern Ireland to ease their passage.

“In line with precedent that typically allows two months to respond to proceedings of this kind, we have agreed with the EU that we will respond to the Letter of Formal Notice by mid-May,” the spokeswoman said.

“We’ve been clear that the measures we have taken are lawful and part of a progressive and good faith implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

Since leaving the EU’s single market at the end of last year, supermarkets in Northern Ireland have seen some shortages of food, and the British government has also delayed introducing checks on parcels and pets.

The difficulties stem from the terms of Britain’s withdrawal agreement, which leaves Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods and so requires checks on goods arriving there from other parts of the United Kingdom.

The two sides are due to meet on Thursday for talks on Northern Ireland at a meeting unlikely to reach a breakthrough but seen more as a staging post as London and Brussels try to find a way to ease differences over trade.

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UK and EU edge closer to deal on Brexit checks in Northern Ireland

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The UK is edging towards a new deal with the EU on Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland with the potential for easing border checks on certain goods. Officials in London and Brussels have been involved in intense “technical talks” in the past two weeks over the future checks on food, plants and parcels going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Downing Street’s official spokesman said the discussions had been constructive but that there were “still significant differences that need to be resolved”. The cabinet minister David Frost spoke by phone to the European commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič on Friday.

Sources said that while progress has been made on Northern Ireland, efforts did not involve removing checks on goods but instead were being concentrated on removing the series of “rolling deadlines” from the implementation of border controls.

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One option is a new series of agreed milestones to be achieved involving agreement with business and civic society before each stage of the protocol is implemented. It would mirror public health experts’ “data not dates” advice to Boris Johnson regarding the easing of lockdown in England.Advertisementhttps://fe51aebfd36b7b7e45cc937da958003b.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

The talks began a fortnight ago after relations with the EU reached a low point, with Brussels launching legal action against the UK for taking a unilateral decision to extend the grace period for checks on supermarket goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

A cabinet source played down the row, claiming the dispute was a result of an unfortunate “mismatch in the communications last month”. This reflects revived urgent efforts to sort out the situation and a recognition in London that a joint approach is the way forward.

This is a change in policy from February when Michael Gove demanded the protocol be delayed until 2023.

Last week the Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, told political parties in Belfast that the protocol would not be scrapped, despite demands by the Democratic Unionist party and others, and seven consecutive nights of violence in Northern Ireland.

There is urgent political need to calm the atmosphere in Northern Ireland but there is also recognition in London, Dublin and Brussels that any deal centring on the protocol will not address loyalist protests. Brexit checks down the Irish Sea have enraged loyalist communities who see the trade border as an assault on Northern Ireland’s place in the union of the UK.

EU sources have put it to UK officials that 90% of border checks could disappear if Britain agreed to align food standards with those of the bloc.

Ireland’s Europe minister, Thomas Byrne, told the BBC the situation was “delicate” but he said it would be “excellent” if a veterinary deal could be achieved as it would solve problems both in Northern Ireland and those facing food exporters in Great Britain.

But many see such a food agreement as unlikely because entering into such as deal would represent a complete U-turn for the UK, which opposed regulatory alignment to achieve a hard Brexit.

There have been suggestions that the border checks could be significantly eased if the UK adopted an agreement along the lines of that operating for Australia and New Zealand agrifood trade. However, industry insiders say this would not address loyalist concerns as it still requires paperwork.

The agrifood sector is instead urging the EU and UK to take a pragmatic approach by extending the categories of goods deemed not at risk of crossing into the Republic of Ireland to include food.

The current talks are focusing on a new implementation programme outlined in a plan delivered by London to Brussels a fortnight ago. The EU has also requested real-time access to customs and border check data in Belfast ports.

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UK asks for more time to respond to EU Brexit legal action: RTE TV

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Britain has asked for more time to respond to legal action taken by the European Union over its unilateral decision to ease requirements of the Northern Ireland Protocol, Ireland’s RTE television reported on Wednesday (14 April), writes Conor Humphries.

“The request came in two letters from the UK’s chief Brexit minister David Frost,” RTE correspondent Tony Connelly said in a Twitter post.

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