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November 28, 2020

Brexit goes down to the wire: EU and UK say big differences remain

World

November 28, 2020

BRUSSELS: The European Union and Britain said on Friday there were still substantial differences over a Brexit trade deal as the EU chief negotiator prepared to travel to London in a last-ditch attempt to avoid a tumultuous finale to the five-year Brexit crisis.

With just five weeks left until the United Kingdom finally exits the EU’s orbit on Dec. 31, both sides are calling on the other to compromise on the three main issues of contention - fishing, state aid and how to resolve any future disputes.

The two sides will shortly resume face-to-face negotiations after they had to be suspended last week when one of EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier’s team tested positive for COVID-19.“Clearly there are substantial and important differences still to be bridged but we’re getting on with it,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters.

“The likelihood of a deal is very much determined by our friends and partners in the EU — there’s a deal there to be done if they want to do it.”Barnier said on Twitter he would travel to London on Friday evening for talks with Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost.

“Same significant divergences persist,” Barnier said.Neither side has so far shown a willingness to shift enough on the three outstanding issues to allow a breakthrough.

“It is late, but a deal is still possible, and I will continue to talk until it’s clear that it isn’t,” Frost said. Johnson has been resisting signing up to the EU´s vision of a post-Brexit “level playing field”, with punishing trade penalties if either side diverges from agreed standards. He has also balked at giving EU fishing boats access to British waters, in one of the most sensitive and still unresolved issues over the eight months of talks. Barnier was expected to brief fishing ministers from the countries most affected by the issue, before heading to the British capital.

If a deal cannot be signed and ratified by December 31, cross-Channel trade will face a tariff barrier and businesses on both sides — but especially Britain — will suffer.The talks have already pushed on much longer than expected and time is running out for ratification of any deal by the European Parliament by the end of year.

Members of the European Parliament, who will also confer with Barnier on Friday, have expressed frustration with the delays and may have to ratify a deal between Christmas and the New Year.

Despite the urgency, France on Thursday warned that the EU must not be “intimidated” by Britain´s refusal to compromise or lose its resolve in the final stretch.“The British need an agreement more than we do. Europeans must be convinced of this, and convinced of their strength in these negotiations,” France´s Europe Minister Clement Beaune said.