The European Union has warned that the UK has not moved enough to overcome the three main obstacles to a post-Brexit trade deal as three of the bloc’s leaders called for stepping up contingency plans in case the one of them would not be affected.
At a meeting in Brussels on Friday, envoys from the 27 EU member states were told progress had been slow and negotiations could now slide into December, according to people at the meeting who called for no not be identified because they were not authorized to do so. speak publicly. The pound slashed its earlier gains.
Talks were troubled this week by the revelation that a member of the EU team had tested positive for the coronavirus. Face-to-face negotiations have been suspended and Michel Barnier, the bloc’s chief negotiator, is due to go into quarantine just as the time to strike a deal runs out.
Late Thursday, the leaders of France, Belgium and the Netherlands called on the bloc to draw up contingency plans in case a deal does not materialize. If this happens, businesses and consumers will face disruption with the return of tariffs and quotas.
In recent days, however, officials on both sides had privately expressed cautious optimism that a deal could be reached as early as next week. The EU ambassadorial briefing and comments from the three leaders may be an attempt to pressure the UK government to compromise more before a deal is struck later.
Officials said the talks were at a delicate stage and the envoys had not been briefed in detail so as not to undermine negotiations and endanger possible compromises.
While the EU has been saying for weeks that disagreements over fisheries, a level playing field and how any deal will be enforced, the reality seems more nuanced. Both sides have made concessions and progress in recent days, according to people familiar with the negotiations.
Some progress has been made on state aid, two EU officials said, but on other so-called level playing field issues the UK is still resisting pressure from the EU, including ratchet clauses – which would force Britain to raise its legal standards in areas such as the environment and social protection if EU law changes in the future.
On fisheries, the two sides still cannot agree on what share of UK EU catch vessels will be allocated. On governance, the two sides did not agree on cross-retaliation clauses, the official said.
“We are working hard to reach an agreement and to find solutions which fully respect British sovereignty,” said a British official.
The path to an agreement:
- November 16 – Resumption of talks in Brussels
- 19 November – EU leaders organize videoconference
- 20 November – Barnier prepares to brief European diplomats on the progress made; Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen could organize an appeal afterwards – but this has not been confirmed.
- November 23 – Talks resume in London; officials hope to make a breakthrough early in the week and come to an agreement.
- December 10-11 – EU holds summit. If a deal hasn’t been signed yet, expect preparations for Britain’s messy exit from the single market to feature prominently.
- December 16 – The European Parliament must vote on any deal. But it could be delayed between Christmas and New Years.
- December 31 – End of the Brexit transition period. The final and irremovable deadline. If the two sides have not signed a trade deal, Britain will negotiate with the EU by default on World Trade Organization terms.
Copyright 2020 Bloomberg.
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