Post-Brexit trade talks between the UK and European Union will continue in London as Michel Barnier said both sides have a “common responsibility” to strike a deal.
The European Union’s chief negotiator is expected to continue discussions with his UK counterpart David Frost as the deadline for an agreement looms.
Talks had been in limbo after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s deadline for a deal passed last week, but they resumed yesterday as the EU said both sides needed to compromise on trade issues.
Arriving in London, Mr Barnier said it was important to be back at the table. “I think we have a huge common responsibility. Every day counts.”
The UK government acknowledged that “significant gaps” remain between the two sides and it was “entirely possible that negotiations will not succeed”.
The main stumbling blocks remain fishing rights, the governance of any deal and the “level playing field” aimed at preventing unfair competition, which includes state subsidies.
Time is short to reach an agreement before the end of the transition period on 31 December.
Both sides had previously said a deal would need to be reached by mid-October in order to allow time for ratification.
“Time is now very short and we’ve been repeatedly clear that any agreement needs to be in place before the end of the transition period and if an agreement can’t be reached, we will leave on Australian-style terms,” a spokesman for Mr Johnson told reporters, using the government’s term for no deal.
“Both sides have agreed to a genuine intensification of the negotiations with talks taking place daily, including at weekends.”
There has been some movement around the edges, but in a briefing with diplomats in Brussels late on Wednesday, Mr Barnier said he was only worried about fish, one person who participated in the closed-door meeting said.
“Fish is now the thing to tackle. The other elements seem doable, more or less,” the diplomat said.
Britain wants control over its waters and annual quota negotiations while the EU wants continued access for its boats, with the French particularly concerned about losing their catch.
After Mr Johnson walked away from talks last week, EU officials have become increasingly frustrated with British tactics which in their mind simply use up valuable time in unnecessary theatrics.
But the UK side have argued that they must stick up for their position, and honour Mr Johnson’s pledge to “take back control”. Some in his team saw a small victory in the EU talking up British sovereignty to get the talks back on track.
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.
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