Brussels says trade deal with the UK is 'both close and far away'

Brussels says a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK is ‘both close and far away’ due to ‘persistent’ deadlock on crunch issues like fishing rights after top-level talks are suspended following EU official’s positive coronavirus test

  • Top-level trade talks were suspended yesterday after EU official tested positive
  • Brussels now believes that a trade deal with the UK is ‘both close and far away’ 
  • Agreement has almost been found in most areas but three sticking points remain

Brussels today claimed a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK is ‘both close and far away’ due to the ‘persistent’ deadlock over crunch issues like fishing rights. 

Top-level talks were suspended yesterday after a member of Michel Barnier’s team tested positive for coronavirus. 

Officials continue to work remotely on the detail of the accord but EU diplomats said this morning that sticking points ‘still need their time’ to be resolved as the clock ticks down to the end of the transition period in December. 

As well as fishing, the other main points of contention are the so-called ‘level playing field’ on competition and the future governance of the deal. 

Progress is said to be being made ‘very, very slowly’ on those two issues but ‘fisheries are not really moving anywhere right now’. 

Top-level Brexit trade talks were suspended yesterday after a member of Michel Barnier’s team tested positive for coronavirus

EU diplomats were briefed on the status of the talks this morning by a senior member of the European Commission. 

It was apparently made clear that the two sides are very close to agreement in almost all areas apart from the three which have long prevented major progress being made. 

A senior EU diplomat told Reuters after the meeting: ‘We are both close and far away. 

‘It seems that we are very close to agreement on most issues but differences on the three contentious issues persist.’

A second EU diplomat said of the outstanding issues: ‘They still need their time. 

‘Some things on the level playing field have moved, albeit very, very slowly. Fisheries are not really moving anywhere right now.’ 

The talks were plunged into disarray yesterday after a member of Mr Barnier’s team tested positive for Covid-19 and top-level negotiations had to be put on hold. 

Mr Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said he and his UK counterpart Lord Frost had ‘decided to suspend the negotiations at our level for a short period’ in the wake of the test result. 

Lord Frost said he would remain in ‘close contact’ with Mr Barnier and insisted ‘the health of our teams comes first’. 

A UK Government spokesman said ministers were now talking to Brussels about the ‘implications for the negotiations’. 

The positive test raises major questions about how and when face-to-face talks could resume because of the potential need for the negotiating teams to self-isolate. 

Mr Barnier tweeted: ‘Update: one of the negotiators in my team has tested positive for COVID-19. With David Frost we have decided to suspend the negotiations at our level for a short period. The teams will continue their work in full respect of guidelines.’ 

Mr Frost responded: ‘I am in close contact with Michel Barnier about the situation. The health of our teams comes first. I would like to thank the [European Commission] for their immediate help and support.’ 

A UK Government spokesman said: ‘The Commission has informed us that an official in their delegation has tested positive for Covid-19. 

‘We are discussing with them the implications for the negotiations. We have been, and will continue to, act in line with public health guidelines and to ensure the health and welfare our teams.’   

The two sides have been engaged in intensified talks in recent weeks, with negotiating rounds alternating between London and Brussels. The latest round of talks was taking place in the Belgian capital.

The middle of November had been viewed as the latest a deal could be agreed between the UK and the EU because of the amount of time needed to ratify and implement the new arrangements.  

A failure to agree a deal before the end of the transition period will see the two sides forced to trade on World Trade Organisation terms from January 1 and that will mean tariffs being imposed on goods. 

Business groups on both sides of the English Channel are calling for the EU and the UK to compromise and strike an accord as they continue to warn companies cannot afford a chaotic split, especially after they have been hammered by the coronavirus crisis.  

Source: Read Full Article