Brexit trade talks paused as ‘significant divergences’ remain

Michel Barnier
Michel Barnier (PA Wire)
20:45pm, Fri 04 Dec 2020
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British and EU negotiators have agreed to “pause” talks on a post-Brexit trade deal amid continuing “significant divergences” on key issues.

In a joint statement, Michel Barnier and Lord Frost said they had suspended discussions while they brief Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on the state of play.

The two leaders will then discuss the situation in a call on Saturday afternoon.

“After one week of intense negotiation in London, the two chief negotiators agreed today that the conditions for an agreement are not met, due to significant divergences on level playing field, governance and fisheries,” the statement said.

“On this basis, they agreed to pause the talks in order to brief their principals on the state of play of the negotiations.”

The latest delay to the negotiations comes after Downing Street said they had reached a “very difficult point” in the negotiations.

With time running out for an agreement before the current Brexit transition period ends at the end of the month, UK sources have accused the EU of trying to introduce “new elements” into the negotiations at the 11th hour.

Meanwhile, France’s Europe minister, Clement Beaune, has publicly warned that his country could veto any agreement if it did not satisfy their conditions.

A No 10 spokesman said: “We are committed to working hard to try and reach an agreement with the EU and the talks are ongoing.

“There are still some issues to overcome. Time is in very short supply and we are at a very difficult point in the talks.

“What is certain is we will not be able to agree a deal that doesn’t respect our fundamental principles on sovereignty, fishing and control.

“Our negotiating team is working extremely hard in order to bridge the gaps that remain.”

After months of circling round the same key issues, there had been hopes that this weekend would be the point when the two sides would finally make the moves needed to get an agreement over the line.

At the same time there had been an expectation that Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen would have to come together to resolve the most problematic issues.

With little time left for the two sides to ratify any agreement before the end of the year, the pressure exposed underlying tensions within the EU.

Irish premier Micheal Martin, whose country is expected to be among the biggest losers if the two sides failed to reach an agreement, said he “fervently” hoped there would be a deal.

In comments apparently aimed at the French, he said the negotiators had to be given the space to conclude their discussions.

Brexit (PA Media)

“I have faith and trust in the EU negotiating team, in Michel Barnier and in president Ursula von der Leyen,” he said.

“There have been some countries putting pressure on wanting to seek additional information – 27 states can’t negotiate collectively.

“We’ve got to allow them the space to conclude their talks and hopefully achieve an agreement out of this.”

Meanwhile, Mr Beaune, an ally of President Emmanuel Macron, told Europe 1 radio that France will not accept a deal with “bad terms”.

“If a good agreement cannot be reached, we will oppose it. Each country has a veto right, so it is possible,” he said.

If there is an agreement in the coming days, it could be signed off by EU leaders at a two-day summit in Brussels starting on Thursday – their last scheduled gathering of the year.

In a further complicating factor, the UK Government is bringing back to the Commons legislation enabling it to override elements of Mr Johnson’s “divorce” settlement with Brussels in breach of international law.

On Monday, MPs will vote on whether to overturn amendments by the House of Lords which removed the provisions in the UK Internal Market Bill relating to the Irish border.

The legislation has infuriated the EU and – if it is passed – could sour the mood in the negotiations making a deal harder to reach.

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