Brexit trade talks in 'difficult phase', British minister says

04 Décembre, 2020, 14:22 | Auteur: Auguste Feret
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With the transition period set to expire on 31 December, the time is nearly up for negotiating the final clauses of a post-withdrawal trade and governance deal.

It is reported the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, is expected to return to Brussels today, but could come straight back to London.

Downing Street sources played down the prospect of an imminent breakthrough. From the end of the year it will be treated by Brussels as a third country.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the diplomat said Barnier did not specify a date by which an agreement must be clinched, but time will be needed for all 27 member states and the European Parliament to approve it before December 31.

As per senior diplomats with knowledge of the agenda, the commonly agreed upon issue was that Barnier is now treading on some of the "red lines" drawn up for him to stick to through the talks, although they don't expect he will go beyond them, with France's ambassador in Brussels having been among 11 top European diplomats saying that Barnier should by no means give in.

A no-deal exit is the nightmare scenario for businesses and investors who say it would snarl borders, spook financial markets and sow chaos through the supply chains that stretch across Europe and beyond.

An EU diplomat said: "We are quickly approaching a make-or-break moment in the Brexit talks".

"As we are entering the endgame of the Brexit negotiations, some member states are becoming a bit jittery".

A European source acknowledged that the member states were "wary and needed convincing".

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If the two sides fail to reach a deal, the five-year Brexit divorce would end in disorder just as Europe grapples with the vast economic cost of the COVID-19 outbreak.

European Union and British officials are trying to hammer out a deal ahead of the end of the transition period on December 31st, and the Minister voiced his concern of a no-deal scenario in 2022.

The main source of discord is over how to establish a level of EU-UK alignment on health, labour and environment regulations, while also ensuring Britain's newly found sovereignty.

It's not unusual for assessments of the likelihood of a deal to gyrate wildly in the final days of a negotiation as both sides try to make the other blink.

Fishing, meanwhile, has become the most politically contentious issue, with a group of countries led by France and the Netherlands keen to keep easy access to British waters, but the United Kingdom wants tight limits.

It is likely that von der Leyen and Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold a call on Friday or Saturday - either to sign off on a deal or to give negotiators political instructions to try and finalize any agreement, the people said.

"Swift progress is of the essence", David McAllister, who chairs a Brexit group in the European Parliament, said on Twitter. "Democratic scrutiny is not negotiable".

The latter suggested the European Union had started pushing for further and harder assurances over the role of a domestic regulator of subsidies after the transition period, which, they said, is making the talks come down to the wire.

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