The UK government said the British government and the European Union will resume stalled trade negotiations in London – days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the talks were over.
Johnson announced the end of the talks last week, accusing the bloc of expecting Britain to make all concessions to obtain a deal. He said they could only move forward if the bloc made a “fundamental” change in its policy.
Since then, the European Union has agreed to “intensify” talks – a key demand of the United Kingdom – and to discuss the legal text of the agreement. But Johnson’s Downing Street office said Tuesday that it was not a big enough change to resume negotiations.
The chief EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, reached another conciliatory note on Wednesday and said that a compromise solution was required from the two sides to reach an agreement. It turns out that’s the key.
Johnson’s office said that based on Barnier’s words, he was “ready to welcome the European Union team to London to resume negotiations later this week” for “intense” talks.
“Despite the difficulties we have faced, an agreement is at hand if both sides are willing to work constructively, if they are willing to make concessions,” Barnier told the European Parliament.
Barnier’s spokesman Daniel Ferre said that the European Union negotiators would leave for London on Thursday.
Downing Street took advantage of Barnier’s words about the settlement and his admission that the deal must respect the “sovereignty” of the United Kingdom, a keyword for Brexit supporters.
The two sides have been trying to strike a trade deal since the UK left the European Union on January 31. They should do so within weeks if the pact is to be ratified by the end of the year, when the post-Brexit transition period ends.
Barnier played down the chance of a change that shook the Earth after all these months when talks on major issues moved at an icy pace.
Barnier told the EU lawmakers: “May I remind you that the position of the European Union in these negotiations has in no way changed and will not change.” “We will also remain firm and resolute when it comes to defending the principles and interests of each of the member states of the European Union.”
Barnier’s rainy tone contrasted with the hostile position of European Council President Charles Michel, who rejected Britain’s insistence that the European Union fundamentally change its negotiating position and concede more to the UK’s demands. Michel told the European Parliament that if Britain wanted broad access to the markets of the 27-nation bloc, it would have to keep its waters open to EU fishers, something the UK has rejected.
“Yes, we want to keep our fishers accessing UK waters. Just like the UK, it also wants to continue accessing our huge and diverse markets for its companies,” said Michel.
Any commercial deal has to go through legal scrutiny and legislative approval before January 1, so it brings the real deadline for the deal closer to the first week of November rather than New Year’s Eve.
EU officials said this time pressure has made the UK’s decision to postpone further talks even more baffling.
The bloc accuses Britain of seeking this kind of unrestricted access to its markets usually reserved for European Union members.
“The UK wants to have access to a single market and at the same time be able to deviate from our standards and regulations when it suits them,” said Michel. “You can’t have your cake and eat it either.”
European Union leaders also remain angry at the UK’s plans to ignore some parts of the legally binding withdrawal agreement it signed with the bloc.
If passed, the Internal Market Act would allow the British government to bypass parts of the legally binding Brexit Withdrawal Agreement related to trade with Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK that shares a border with the European Union.
Johnson’s government says it needs the legislation as an insurance policy in case the European Union behaves unreasonably after the post-Brexit transition period ends on Dec.31 and tries to impede the flow of goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
The bloc is considered a flagrant violation of an international treaty that could undermine the sensitive foundations for the peace settlement in Northern Ireland, which was created under the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
It also fuels a general sense of mistrust in Britain, striking any trade deal since the European Union will look at every paragraph and its meticulousness to make sure the UK respects it.
Michel used it to highlight the need to respect high environmental and social obligations in any business transaction.
Our friends in the UK say they want to maintain the highest standards. If so, then why not stick with it? We don’t need the words. We need guarantees.
I mentioned Jill Lawless from London.
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