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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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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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