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Britain and the European Union are continuing talks in a desperate attempt to strike a post-Brexit trade deal before the end of the transition period on December 31. The UK officially left the bloc on January 31, with trade talks beginning in Brussels two months later, led by Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator David Frost and Brussels counterpart Michel Barnier. Face-to-face talks were put on hold due to the coronavirus crisis sweeping through the continent, but resumed last month in Brussels, followed by further meetings in London at 10 Downing Street last week.
But both sides have lamented the lack of progress made in negotiations to this point, continuing to insist “significant differences” remain between them.
The UK and EU teams have attacked each other over demands made in a future trade deal, with elements such as fisheries, a level playing field and access from the City of London to EU financial markets acting as major stumbling blocks.
Mr Johnson wants a deal completed over the coming weeks but Angela Merkel – whose country Germany took over presidency of the European Council on July 1 – said talks could stretch into the autumn and has warned EU nations to prepare for a no deal scenario.
Denis Macshane, a former Europe Minister in the UK, believes the two sides may have to wait until “the last moment” before any deal is agreed.
The former British Cabinet minister told The Parliament Magazine: “The only talks that matter consist of the private conversation going on between the left and right sides of Boris Johnson’s head.”
“Does he want to risk a major crisis of 50km queues at Dover or Calais, the City of London being shut out of its most profitable markets, threats to data exchange on criminals and all thousand and one relations the UK has taken for granted for half a century as a functioning member of first the EEC now the EU?”
He added: “How intense is the pressure from Tory MPs and elderly grass roots party activists who believe as an article of faith that any links with Europe other than on exclusively English terms are unacceptable.”
“Michel Barnier is sending out all sorts of compromise signals on fisheries and the European Court of Justice not applying to UK domestic law. But so far there has been no equal reciprocity by Johnson.”
“I suspect if a deal does happen it will happen in a rush at the last moment with lots more to be done in the coming years. But no-one knows.”
“The British Prime Minister looks shattered and at times rambling and confused as he has not fully recovered from his COVID-19 near-death experience. I doubt if he knows himself.
“He remains a journalist more than a Government leader and like all journalists will only focus once a deadline is imminent.”
Roger Liddle, a Labour Party member of the House of Lords who also served as special adviser on European affairs to former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair from 1997-2004, warned the UK and EU “are on collision course for failure”.
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Mr Liddle, who is also art of the UK-based think tank the Policy Network, argued in a paper: “The negotiations on Britain’s future relationship with the EU are on a collision course for failure. To avoid this will require mutual give and take.”
“Principally, the British government needs to climb down from its self-imagined pedestal of Brexit triumph.”
He also warned the UK “faces huge economic risks in piling on top of the grave COVID-19 emergency with the negative impacts of no deal, or a very bare bones trade deal, which is probably where we are heading.”
The latest warnings come as the European commission has been asked to draw up a “needs assessment” in case of a no deal Brexit at the end of the transition period.
European Council President Charles Michel said the aim of this is to ensure member states, regions and specific sectors, such as fisheries and agriculture, don’t suffer “unforeseen consequences”.
Mr Michel, who recently unveiled plans for a €5billion “Brexit Reserve” to mitigate against the impact Brexit, wants the Commission to formally plan for a no deal scenario.
The European Council President added the Commission will therefore need to prepare a “needs assessment, “so that we are able to support those countries, regions and sectors that will be most affected by Brexit.”
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