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‘Persistent’ differences remain says EU as Brexit talks deadline looms

Written by on 2 October 2020

Big differences remain in post-Brexit trade talks with the UK, Brussels’ chief negotiator has said.

As the deadline for cutting an agreement looms, Michel Barnier welcomed some “positive new developments” following this week’s negotiations in London.

But he warned there had been a “lack of progress” on issues like climate change commitments and “persistent, serious divergences on matters of major importance for the EU”.

“We will continue to maintain a calm and respectful attitude, and we will remain united and determined until the end of these negotiations,” Mr Barnier added in a statement released on Friday.

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Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen will speak on Saturday afternoon

The UK’s Brexit negotiator, Lord Frost, said the “outlines” of a free trade agreement with the EU are now “visible” but “familiar differences ” remain and he is concerned there is “very little time” left.

Fisheries remain a major sticking point but he said there had been “some limited progress” on the issue of state aid and a law enforcement agreement but the EU needed to “move further” if there was to be an agreement.

He said the ninth round of negotiations was “constructive” and conducted in “good spirits”.

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But, the UK is still seeking an agreement “that ensures our ability to set our own laws without constraints that go beyond those appropriate to a free trade deal”, he added.

Lord Frost said that is true of most of the core areas of a trade and economic agreement – notably trade in goods and services, transport, energy, social security, and participation in EU programmes.

“On fisheries, the gap between us is unfortunately very large and, without further realism and flexibility from the EU, risks being impossible to bridge. These issues are fundamental to our future status as an independent country,” he said.

“I am concerned that there is very little time now to resolve these issues ahead of the European Council on October 15.”

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EU: PM breaching ‘good faith’ of Brexit deal

The latest round of negotiations come ahead of talks between the head of the EU Commission, President Ursula von der Leyen, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday afternoon.

A Number 10 spokesperson said it is to “take stock of negotiations and discuss next steps”.

While the two leaders will likely be focusing on trade talks to hammer out an agreement before the transition period runs out at the end of 2020, Ms von der Leyen’s action yesterday will inevitably feature.

She accused Mr Johnson of breaching the “good faith” part of the Withdrawal Agreement, by drawing up a plan to override it in the event trade talks are unsuccessful.

A minister has admitted the move would break international law.

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Both the UK and the EU need to agree a deal by a 15 October deadline – the next meeting of all EU leaders where they would gather to sign it off.

Mr Johnson has said previously he is prepared for there to be no deal.

It has also emerged that European Council President Charles Michel will visit Ireland next week for a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin.

EU and Union flags flutter in the breeze in front of the Victoria Tower, part of the Palace of Westminster in central London on October 17, 2019. - Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the European Union on Thursday reached a provisional agreement that might just see Britain leave the European Union by the October 31 deadline. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
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Brexit trade talks are nearing the deadline

‘Time for those at the top to put their cards on the table’
Analysis by Michelle Clifford, Europe correspondent

Wouldn’t you like to eavesdrop on that Saturday morning conversation between the man and woman either side of the Channel trying to deliver a Brexit deal with so little time left.

That they are talking at all has to be seen as a positive.

The call between the two will come just two days after the EU launched legal proceedings against the UK over its plans to override parts of the withdrawal agreement.

One imagines there will be some time set aside for some firm words about that but the aim of the call is for the two to “take stock” of this week’s negotiations and figure out the next steps with just weeks left now until a deal is supposed to be decided.

The EU has remained tight-lipped about talk of some progress from the UK side but has acknowledged there are still significant gaps between their positions.

Will a frank conversation between the two shove things in the right direction?

Negotiation teams have been hard at it in Brussels all week. The EU and UK chief negotiators met today.

But it’s now time for those at the top of the talks to put their cards well and truly on the table.