Friday

5th Mar 2021

EU tells UK to decide on Brexit as deal 'within reach'

  • EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier talks to commissioner Maros Sefcovic on Wednesday in the European Parliament (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU told the UK on Wednesday (21 October) to make up its mind on Brexit - but also extended an olive branch after talks on the future relations have been disrupted by political theatrics over the last week.

The two sides decided late on Wednesday to resume negotiations on Thursday.

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European Council president Charles Michel told MEPs on Wednesday that the EU is ready to negotiate "24/7 on all subjects, based on legal texts".

"The UK has a big decision to make, it's their free and sovereign choice," he said, adding, "their sovereign answer will determine their level of access to our internal market. This is just common sense."

Michel listed again the three key sticking points in negotiations, fair competition, access to each others fishing waters, and the rules that will govern the future relations deal.

Talks broke down last week following the EU summit, after which London demanded the bloc starts drafting specific legal texts of the deal and also compromise on the key issues.

"Our UK friends say they want to maintain the highest standards, if that's the case why don't they commit to them?," asked Michel.

"We don't need words, but guarantees," the former Belgian premier added.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his British counterpart David Frost spoke on Wednesday, for the third day in a row, and decided to unlock the stalemate in negotiations. The EU team will travel to London on Thursday.

With only 10 weeks to go until the transition period that regulates current EU-UK relations runs out, some EU officials see British reluctance on talks as political posturing before UK prime minister Boris Johnson can climb down and make a compromise.

Top EU officials, nevertheless, addressed British demands in their speeches on Wednesday.

Barnier told MEPs that an "agreement is within reach, if both sides willing to work constructively, if both sides are ready to compromise, and of we are ready in the next few days to resolve the trickiest subjects", thereby talking up the British request on a compromise from the EU's side.

In a nod to another British concern about not being treated by the bloc as an equal, Barnier said the EU's principles "are fully compatible with the respect of British sovereignty, a legitimate concern of Boris Johnson's government".

A UK spokesman said Barnier's comments touched "in a significant way on the issues behind the current difficulties in our talks".

The French politician also said progress has been made on law-enforcement cooperation, human rights, data protection, transportation, and the UK's participation in EU programmes such as Erasmus for students and Horizon for researchers.

Other issues remain unresolved, such as trade in goods and services, energy and social-security coordination.

But the key to clinch a deal would be an agreement on a so-called level playing field, including the use of state aid, fisheries, and the governance of the future deal.

Michel stressed that the internal market bill - currently being debated in the UK parliament - which enables London to suspend parts of the withdrawal agreement, "clearly violates" the divorce deal.

"What's the point of negotiating, signing and ratifying an international agreement, if it's not implemented in full? In case of violation of the agreement, we need to be able to bring the dispute to binding independent arbitration, and get a swift resolution," he said.

On fisheries, Michel said the EU wants to keep access to UK waters, "exactly like the UK wants to keep access to our huge and diversified markets for its companies".

The EU has said it is willing to negotiate until mid-November, but any deal then must be ratified by the European Parliament before the end of the year.

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