Sources say common ground seems possible in areas related to protecting reciprocal social security rights for people moving between EU member states and the UK. But a no-deal exit on trade issues continues to loom.
Britain and the EU appeared to be close to an agreement on reciprocal social security rights for their citizens after Brexit, two diplomatic sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters news agency on Tuesday
The sources' remarks come ahead of talks that are set to take place from Wednesday to Friday in London. A senior EU official dealing with Brexit has said the talks are taking place "in a decisive period" and "not far away from the endgame."
The negotiations between the EU and Britain could go on as late as mid-November, as both sides try to avoid a damaging "no-deal" scenario when the UK formally leaves the bloc on December 31.
Last week's negotiating round produced no breakthroughs on the three most contentious issues - fishing rights, fair competition guarantees and ways to settle disputes in the future. But diplomatic sources said the prospects of an overall accord looked much brighter this week.
"We seem to be getting closer and closer to a deal, even though the no-deal rhetoric in public might suggest the opposite," said one of the two sources, both of whom were briefed in detail by the executive European Commission, which is negotiating on behalf of the 27-member bloc.
The two diplomats said Britain had made favorable proposals on nine out of 10 areas related to protecting reciprocal social security rights for people moving between EU member states and the UK.
These included benefits for accidents at work and death grants, whose protections could be critical for as many as 5 million people, whether it be a British person in retirement in southern France, or a German employee in London.
The tenth area that produced no agreement concerned family benefits, as London wants EU citizens to pay a surcharge over five years for healthcare access for family members, while the EU says it should reciprocate the open access it offers.
At stake in this week’s talks is an estimated trillion euros worth of bilateral trade between the EU and the UK. Investors and businesses are increasingly anxious over the possibility that the two sides will fail to reach an agreement to ensure the continuation of trade without tariffs or quotas.
A top EU official dealing with the UK told the Associated Press (AP) on Tuesday that a no deal rupture on trade was becoming more likely by the day.
European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic blamed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for imperiling the talks by introducing a bill last month that breaches the legally-binding Withdrawal Agreement it struck with the bloc.
Read more: UK breach of Brexit terms erodes EU trust
Sefcovic said it made Britain less trustworthy and called the plans "a heavy blow to the British signature and reliability."
"The full and timely implementation of the withdrawal agreement is simply not debatable," he told the European Parliament.
The current adversarial conditions may make it harder for negotiators from both sides to find common ground for a rudimentary trade deal to avoid a barrage of uncertainty, tariffs and red tape that would hurt economies on both sides when the transition come January 1.
jcg/rs (Reuters, AP)