Brexit negotiators race for breakthrough as time is running out by Bloomberg

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(Bloomberg) – Brexit negotiators will take a brief hiatus on Wednesday as time is running out for the two sides to break through on their biggest disagreements.

The UK and EU teams, who have been working around the clock in Brussels since last week, each plan to hold internal talks before formal talks resume in London on Sunday.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will brief ambassadors from the 27 EU countries, most likely on Wednesday, while his counterpart, David Frost, is expected to brief Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Johnson is now unlikely to speak with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen this week, as had already been considered, but could do so at the end of next week if a final political push is needed to strike a deal, two people familiar with the discussions said.

Officials on both sides say a deal is in sight and could be reached between Nov. 13-16 – but warn negotiations could still fail. While the two sides have made progress in recent days to narrow their differences over fisheries, a level playing field and how any deal will be enforced, they have yet to come to an agreement.

Without a deal, millions of businesses and consumers will face the disruption and additional costs of tariffs and quotas when Britain leaves the EU’s single market on December 31. Because any deal requires the approval of the British and European Parliaments, it must be concluded by mid-November if it is to be ready on time.

“There is obviously a lot of work to do,” European Commission spokesman Daniel Ferrie told reporters in Brussels. “Negotiations are underway on all fronts.”

Concessions made

The two sides have made concessions on a level playing field and have reached agreement on some areas, including the parameters of the UK’s future state aid policy, officials said. The biggest conflict that remains concerns the EU’s willingness to include so-called ratchet clauses in any agreement, which would bind the UK to EU standards as they evolve.

On fisheries, both sides are closer to a tentative compromise that would allow the UK to claim it has regained control of UK waters – but decisions on future quotas could be left to a date later. Officials stressed, however, that this should not yet be called a breakthrough. France and other coastal states such as Belgium are pushing for continued access to waters between six and 12 miles off the British coast, which they appreciated as part of a deal. pre-Brexit.

Separately, the European Commission has delayed the immediate launch of legal action against the UK over Johnson’s plan to rewrite parts of the Brexit divorce deal, saying it is still considering her next one. decision.

The bloc had given the UK until October 31 to respond to its demand to withdraw parts of the Home Market bill that violate the withdrawal agreement Johnson made with the EU last year. A Downing Street spokesperson said on Tuesday the UK had not responded to the request.

The legislation had threatened to deteriorate UK-EU relations and jeopardize a trade deal between the two sides. But as talks of a deal progressed, people close to both sides of the negotiations have played down the threat. Each side sees the importance of securing a trade deal and, as the EU takes a violation seriously, officials in Brussels have welcomed the UK government’s attempt to defuse the situation.

“We are determined to work through the joint committee process to find a mutually satisfactory outcome,” Johnson spokesman James Slack said on Tuesday. “This is our top priority.”

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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