29 Nov 2020

Brexit negotiations restart in person as clock ticks down

9:13 am on 29 November 2020

Face-to-face negotiations between Britain and the European Union over a trade deal have restarted as the two sides make a last ditch attempt to reach an agreement with just five weeks to go before their current relationship ends.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier wearing a protective face covering to combat the spread of the coronavirus, waves to members of the media as he leaves a conference centre as negotiations on a trade deal between the EU and the UK continue in London on November 28, 2020.

EU negotiator Michel Barnier is being "leaned on" to reach a deal with the UK, The Times newspaper reports. Photo: AFP

There is currently no call scheduled between UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, a UK source told Reuters, after The Times newspaper reported the pair would speak in the next 48 hours.

The first sign of movement - either towards a deal or that talks are crumbling - is likely to be a call between Johnson and von der Leyen.

The Times also reported that the European Commission has started to "lean on" EU negotiator Michel Barnier to reach a deal with Britain, raising hopes that an agreement could come.

Talks have been continuing via video link for the past week or so, after the positive Covid-19 test in a member of Barnier's team.

Barnier travelled to London yesterday after briefing EU ambassadors and members of the European Parliament on talks.

He had said on Friday night that he was "very happy" to be back in the city and would keep working with "patience and determination" although he has also referred to "significant divergences" preventing a deal so far.

Barnier and Britain's negotiator David Frost are working to secure a deal before the UK's transition period with the EU ends on 31 December.

Both sides said yesterday that there were still big differences to overcome, as they both called for the other to compromise on the three main issues of contention - fishing, state aid and how to resolve any future disputes.

Earlier, Johnson insisted the likelihood of a deal depended on the EU.

Speaking on Friday, the prime minister told reporters that "there's a deal there to be done if they want to do it".

He added that a trade agreement would "benefit people on both sides of the Channel," but insisted the UK could "prosper mightily" without one.

"Everybody's working very hard - but clearly there are substantial and important differences to be bridged, but we're getting on with it."

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a national service of remembrance at the National Memorial Arboretum on August 15, 2020.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson: "There are substantial and important differences to be bridged." Photo: Anthony Devlin / Pool / AFP

Britain left the bloc on 31 January this year but it is continuing to follow the bloc's rules until the end of the year as part of an 11-month transition period. A "no-deal" final exit would snarl borders, spook financial markets and disrupt delicate supply chains that stretch across Europe and beyond -- just as the world grapples with the vast economic cost of the Covid-19 outbreak.

If a trade deal is not agreed, trading between the two will default to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

The EU and UK can keep negotiating if they want to after this, but the two sides would face import taxes on goods traded between them.

The UK would have no access to the EU's energy market, and no agreement on police and judicial co-operation.

On the major sticking point of fishing, some media reports on Friday suggested that Britain had rejected an EU proposal on the value of fish quota that European fleets catch in British waters that are due to be restored to the UK.

The Times said Johnson and von der Leyen were due to talk to find common ground on fishing quotas.

- Reuters

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