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Brexit: EU and UK urge compromise to save talks

October 19, 2020

Talks faltered after the UK's leader Boris Johnson said there was no point continuing negotiations. While talking tough, top negotiators on both sides signaled they want to continue meeting.

Michel Barnier stands in front of a blue screen with the EU flag on it
Image: Kenzo Tribouillard/Reuters

Top EU and UK negotiators signaled Monday that the door was still open to a Brexit trade deal but urged for compromise during a day of meetings, days after talks broke down.

Read more: 'Little chance' of broad Brexit trade deal: EU parliament deputy chief

Chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted Monday following a telephone meeting with UK counterpart David Frost: "As stated by [European Commission] President [Ursula] von der Leyen on Friday, I confirmed that the EU remains available to intensify talks in London this week, on all subjects, and based on legal texts. We now wait for the UK’s reaction."

Barnier's tweet appeared to address a call by the UK prime minister's official spokesperson earlier on Monday for the EU to "be ready to discuss the legal text of a [trade] treaty in all areas and they need to show a genuine wish to find a solution that respects UK sovereignty and independence."

Both sides have been struggling to agree on a number of key issues just months ahead of December 31 negotiations deadline.

On Thursday, the EU demanded Britain give ground on especially over fair competition rules and fishing rights. In turn, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday said that there was no point continuing negotiations.

If no agreement is reached by the end of December, the UK faces the prospect of trading with the EU according to World Trade Organization (WTO) tariffs and quotas. These could be devastating to both the EU and UK economies that have already been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Frost and Barnier had been due for trade negotiations in London this week but instead discussed the structure of their negotiations in light of Johnson's threat to end the talks.

Constructive talks?

A spokesperson for the UK government called the discussion "constructive" and "noted the EU’s proposal to genuinely intensify talks, which is what would be expected at this stage in a negotiation.

The spokesperson added that the UK believes there is "no basis to resume talks unless there is a fundamental change of approach from the EU. This means an EU approach consistent with trying to find an agreement between sovereign equals and with acceptance that movement needs to come from the EU side as well as the UK.

An EU source close to the negotiations said: "It was a good call. We think the UK just needs a little more time."

"Our door will always remain open. We will remain calm, constructive, and patient. There is not much more we can do than that."

While the two teams agreed to remain in touch, sources close to Barnier claim he has still yet to book a train ticket to London for the next round of negotiations.

Michale Gove stants in the UK houses of parliament
Image: Various Sources/AFP

Pushing for a fair deal

Earlier on Monday EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic met UK senior lawmaker Michael Gove in London to discuss the two sides' existing divorce treaty. 

"It has to be a fair agreement for both sides — we are not going to sign an agreement at any cost," Sefcovic said.

"The European Union is ready to work until the last minute for a good agreement for both parties," Sefcovic added.

"There's no point in negotiations proceeding as long as the EU sticks with this position. Such talks will be meaningless, and will take us no nearer to finding a workable solution," Gove told parliament.

He added that he welcomed the proposed intensification of talks that Barnier proposed.

The talks between Sefcovic and Gove appeared more productive, with both relaying progress on guaranteeing the rights of each side's expatriate residents after Brexit.

Read more: Brexit: Angela Merkel urges both sides to keep negotiating

kmm,shs/ (Reuters, dpa, AFP)