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Britain and the European Union warned on Tuesday that talks on a post-Brexit free trade agreement They are on the brink of collapse, with just over three weeks until an economic breakdown that will shock businesses on both sides of the Channel.
Officials downplayed the chances of a breakthrough when Prime Minister Boris Johnson He is heading to Brussels for face-to-face talks with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in the coming days.

With negotiators stuck on key issues after months of tense talks, Johnson said “the situation right now is very complicated.”

“Our friends have just understood that the UK has left the EU in order to exercise democratic control over the way we do things,” Johnson said during a visit to a hospital where some of the world’s first COVID-19 vaccines were being administered. “There is also the issue of fishing, where we are still very far away.

“But hope is eternal. I will do my best to figure it out if we can.”

Boris johnson
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in London to attend a cabinet meeting at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on December 8, 2020. (AP)
German European Affairs Minister Michael Roth said the bloc’s trust in Britain was at stake.

“What we need is political will in London,” said Roth, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency. “Let me be very clear, our future relationship is based on trust and security. It is precisely this trust that is at stake in our negotiations at this time.

“We want to reach an agreement, but not at any price,” Roth told reporters before chairing the video conference talks between his EU counterparts.

Johnson and von der Leyen, head of the EU’s executive arm, spoke by phone on Monday for the second time in 48 hours, but failed to break the deadlock in talks. They later said that “significant differences” remained on three key issues: fishing rights, fair competition rules and the governance of future disputes, and that “the conditions to finalize an agreement do not exist.”

The two leaders said in the joint statement that they planned to discuss the remaining differences “at a physical meeting in Brussels in the next few days.”

No date was given for the meeting. The leaders of the 27 nations of the EU are holding a two-day summit in Brussels starting Thursday and are not willing to be overshadowed by Brexit.

The UK left the EU politically on January 31, but remains within the tariff-free single market and the bloc’s customs union until December 31. Reaching a trade agreement by then would ensure that there are no tariffs or trade quotas for goods exported or imported by the two. sides, although there would still be new costs and red tape.

Both parties would suffer financially from failing to reach a trade deal, but most economists believe that the British economy would be hit the hardest because the UK does almost half of its trade with the bloc.

While both sides want a deal to keep trade running relatively smoothly, the talks have stalled because they have fundamentally different views of what it entails. The EU accuses Britain of trying to retain access to the bloc’s vast market without agreeing to abide by its rules. He fears that Britain will lower social and environmental standards and inject state money into British industries, becoming a low-regulation economic rival at the gates of the bloc, hence the demand for strict “level playing field” guarantees.

The UK government sees Brexit as a matter of sovereignty and “regaining control” of the country’s laws, borders and waters. He claims that the EU is making demands that it has not imposed on other countries with which it has free trade agreements, such as Canada, and is trying to force Britain to the bloc’s rules indefinitely.

European Comission
One of the most intense days in the long-running Brexit trade negotiations began with little good news about any progress in the talks on December 7, 2020, with the UK and the European Union seemingly stuck in the same troubles they have dogged. . the confrontation for months. (AP)

Trust and goodwill between the two parties have been further strained by British legislation violating the legally binding Brexit withdrawal agreement that Johnson signed with the EU last year.

Britain says the Internal Market Act, which gives the government power to override parts of the withdrawal agreement related to trade with Northern Ireland, is necessary as an “insurance policy” to protect the flow of goods within the UK. in case of not dealing with Brexit. The EU sees this as an act of bad faith that could jeopardize the Northern Ireland peace agreement.

The House of Lords, the unelected upper house of Parliament, removed the violation clauses from the legislation last month, but the elected House of Commons restored them on Monday night.

As the parliamentary fight continues, the British government has offered the bloc an olive branch on the issue, saying it will remove the breach clauses if a joint UK-EU committee on Northern Ireland finds solutions in the next few years. days.

– Reported with Associated Press


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