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BREXIT

Brexit talks to resume in London amid signs of vast differences

Britain's chief Brexit negotiator David Frost (left) and his European Union counterpart Michel Barnier, seen here at the launch of talks on future trade ties in Brussels in March, were to meet for a new round of discussions in London on Monday.
Britain's chief Brexit negotiator David Frost (left) and his European Union counterpart Michel Barnier, seen here at the launch of talks on future trade ties in Brussels in March, were to meet for a new round of discussions in London on Monday. REUTERS - POOL New

Negotiators from Britain and the European Union were to resume talks on their future relationship in London on Monday, after previous discussions wrapped up with little sign of progress less than six months away from defaulting to World Trade Organization rules. 

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Britain’s delayed departure from the now-27-member EU on 31 January began a transition period giving London and Brussels until the end of the year to agree to terms of trade in the future, or else default to high tariffs and quotas under World Trade Organization guidelines.

London will host EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, a French politician who has assured Brussels’ side of the talks since October 2016. Barnier warned of “serious divergences” as the previous talks ended last Thursday.

“The EU engages constructively in this week’s restricted round of […] negotiations, in line with our mandate,” Barnier tweeted last Thursday. “We now need equivalent engagement from the UK.”

 

Barnier’s statement on the most recent talks said the EU “expects its positions to be better understood and respected” as talks continued before formal negotiations resumed on 20 July.

Britain’s chief negotiator, David Frost, said the talks were “comprehensive and useful” but also “underlined the significant differences that still remain between us on a number of important issues”.

 

 

British businesses fear WTO rules and are looking for the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to secure a deal as soon as possible, and the haste was reflected in a statement from Frost’s office.

“We remain committed to working hard to find an early understanding on the principles underlying an agreement out of the intensified talks process during July,” the statement read.

Key Issues

EU officials are under less pressure to strike a quick deal though, and have shrugged off Johnson’s repeated threats to walk away and accept distant relations.

Barnier’s statement underlined that the EU wants to ensure any deal ensures fair competition among European and British businesses, a long-term solution for fishing rights and an “overarching institutional framework and effective dispute settlement mechanisms”.

London argues the point of Brexit was to give it more say over its affairs and has insisted that that neither the European Court of Justice nor EU law have a role in the future relationship.  

While Barnier’s statement acknowledged that position, Brussels has also countered that Britain cannot expect a favourable trade deal if it seeks to undercut the bloc with looser labour, environmental and sector-specific aid regulations.

Britain also wants a larger part of fishing waters it now shares with the EU.

Warnings of no deal

The bloc warned it was now up to Britain to make proposals.

“The ball is in the UK’s court,” EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan told Irish broadcaster RTE at the weekend. “If they want a deal, there is a deal to be done.”

As Germany assumed the bloc’s rotating six-month presidency last Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that the EU “should prepare for the case that an agreement is not reached”.

Merkel was to unveil priorities of Germany’s presidency of the European Union on Wednesday

The team of Barnier and Frost are being held in an intensified format in London. Earlier talks at the height of the coronavirus epidemic in Europe were held via video conference.

(with newswires)

 

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