Saturday

23rd Jan 2021

EU tells UK to move if it wants post-Brexit deal

  • EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier stepped in for the press conference after EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had to leave the meeting to self-isolate after one of her contacts tested positive for Covid-19 (Photo: Council of the European Union)

EU leaders on Thursday (15 October) called on London to make the "the necessary moves" in negotiations on the EU-UK future relationships, in order to have a deal ready for January next year.

The EU-27 also called on the EU Commission to draw up contingency measures in case there is no deal.

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The heads of government talked Brexit for over two hours at their Brussels summit, and without phones in the room, as the negotiations now enter two critical weeks.

The EU wants to UK to move on the following issues: fair competition and state aid, fisheries, and governance of the future agreement.

"We are united and determined to reach on agreement, but not at any cost," European Council president Charles Michel told reporters online in a break of the EU summit, which is also dealing with climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic.

"I will continue intensive discussion in the coming weeks," EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said, who gave the press conference along with Michel after commission president Urusla von der Leyen had to abruptly leave the summit to go into precautionary self-isolation after one of her staff tested positive for coronavirus.

Barnier said that he will discuss with his British counterpart, David Frost, a schedule for talks, adding he will be in London ready to continue talks throughout next week, and offered to continue in Brussels the week after.

UK chief negotiator Frost then pushed backed against the EU's call for British moves.

He said on a tweet he was "surprised by suggestion that to get an agreement all future moves must come from UK". "It's an unusual approach to conducting a negotiation," he added.

British prime minister Boris Johnson - who had unilaterally set mid-October as a deadline for a deal - will now set out his approach to Brexit on Friday, according to Frost.

EU leaders are keen to secure an agreement on fair competition with the UK, the so-called level playing field, to protect European companies from UK businesses undercutting them once Britain starts to diverge from EU rules and standards.

"If you want access to our market of 450 million people, there must a level playing filed, there must be free and fair competition," Barnier said.

The EU had backed down from wanting the UK to copy EU rules and standards.

The bloc now seeks to include in the future relations "precise principles" on level playing field, "assurances of domestic enforcement", "a dispute settlement mechanism", and "unilateral measures" if the UK break the rules, Barnier said.

Fisheries remains another sticking point: a key issue for eight coastal EU member states which want continued access to the UK's fishing waters and stock.

"In no case shall our fishermen be sacrificed for Brexit," said French president Emmanuel Macron, when arriving at the summit on Thursday.

Barnier said EU countries know that they have to make a "reasonable" effort here to get a deal.

But he also added, that the EU seeks a "lasting, sustainable and reciprocal" deal, and that there has to be a fair distribution of fishing quotas.

Delete 'intensively'

With time running out until the transition period ends in December, which has so far regulated the UK-EU relations, London seems to be launching a blame game.

Frost said after the summit that he was surprised that the EU summit conclusions on Brexit no longer called for working "intensively" on the future relationship.

An earlier version of the summit conclusions included the word "intensively", which was removed in the final version which called for Barnier to "continue" negotiations.

Barnier, at the press conference, said he would negotiate intensively, and offered a timetable to do it.

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