EU and UK strike conciliatory tone over possibility of Brexit trade deal being struck by autumn

UK government says it ‘still believes’ there is chance of reaching an agreement by October.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

30 Jul 2020

The prospect of an agreement has appeared grim, given recent statements by both sides.

But, despite major obstacles still having to be overcome, both the EU and UK have now injected fresh hope in the long running talks.

On Wednesday, a European Commission spokeswoman sought to strike an upbeat note to the talks, telling reporters that the UK “continues to engage in negotiations sincerely and constructively.”

She said Michel Barnier is with his negotiating team in London this week for “specialised” talks with David Frost, his UK counterpart.

The UK government, meantime, says it “still believes” there is a chance of striking a trade deal with the EU by October.

Despite a belief in some quarters that an agreement will not be reached, a UK source told this website “yes, we still think a deal is possible.”

The UK wants the EU will adopt a more “pragmatic approach” to the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) after the UK finally leaves the EU on 31 December.

“Despite a belief in some quarters that an agreement will not be reached, a UK source told this website “yes, we still think a deal is possible”

The post-Brexit role of the ECJ, along with fisheries and the so-called level playing field, has proven to be the most difficult issues for the two sides in the ongoing negotiations.

But the UK source said it was hoped that this, and other outstanding obstacles, can still be overcome in time for a draft agreement to be ready in time for the next EU summit in the autumn.

Last week, the two sides concluded their latest round of negotiations, the first formal trade discussions to have taken place in London during the talks.

Despite some renewed optimism, France has warned that it will continue to take a tough line on defending the rights of French fishermen.

Even so, a deal with the UK is still possible, France’s new European affairs minister Clément Beaune said on Wednesday.

“We will not accept a deal at any price,” he told the France Inter radio channel in his first public comments on Brexit since his appointment on Sunday. “Better no deal at all than a bad deal,” he said while adding that an agreement was nevertheless the best outcome for all concerned.

Beaune, formerly President Emmanuel Macron’s Europe adviser, has counselled him on the Brexit negotiations since the 2016 referendum.

He said France would be “intransigent” on fishing, and will not be “intimidated” by Britain in the negotiation “game”.

“Let’s not kid ourselves, if there is no deal, it will be a difficult issue,” he added. “We’ll have to organise a response for sectors like fisheries. Support our fishermen financially. We’re not there yet.”

“We will not accept a deal at any price,”... “Better no deal at all than a bad deal” New French European affairs minister Clément Beaune

Elsewhere, a report by the London School of Economics suggests a Brexit hit is looming for sectors that have emerged relatively unscathed from the Covid-19 pandemic.

It says Brexit will deliver a double shock to the economy – with business conditions worsening for those sectors that have survived the impact of coronavirus and lockdown measures – whether Boris Johnson secures a deal with the EU or not.

The analysis, published on Wednesday, includes information from a monthly survey of Confederation of British Industry members.

“Our analysis shows that the sectors that will be affected by Brexit and those that are suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown are generally different from each other,” said Swati Dhingra, an economics professor who co-authored the report.

The two sides are continuing discussions in London this week, albeit at an “informal” level. The next formal round of talks, the sixth to be held, will take place in Brussels starting on 17 August.

Barnier and Frost will continue to oversee the discussions over the summer months, with neither expected to take a holiday.

On Tuesday, a commission spokesman, when asked about possible vacations, Barnier, the EU chief negotiator, said, “I can assure you that Michel Barnier is very busy with no holidays planned, certainly not this week.”

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