LONDON/BRUSSELS (AFP) – British and EU negotiators on Tuesday (Sept 29) launched their last week of intense negotiations as the British parliament is set to approve legislation that would violate terms of the divorce treaty.
Negotiation teams met in Brussels with Britain seeking to make tangible progress ahead of a crunch summit on Oct 16, where EU leaders will decide whether it’s still worth pursuing a trade deal with London.
Officials will tussle over the thorny issues that have deadlocked talks since March, including rules for paying state subsidies to private companies and distribution of fishing rights.
The deal is intended to give Britain wide access to the European market, quell EU worries that post-Brexit Britain will undermine bloc standards, and set limits on state aid.
Failure to reach a deal would put EU and British relations on minimum standards set by the World Trade Organization and cause a severe shock to their interdependent economies.
According to European diplomats, Britain is pushing to intensify negotiations and enter a final phase known as the “tunnel” – in which all communication outside the negotiation room is strictly curtailed.
But the EU-side is so far refusing the invitation, insisting that Britain first budge on the key divisive issues.
“First, the UK should show some leg on the state aid, governance and fish,” an EU diplomat told Agence France-Presse.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Monday (Sept 28) insisted that a deal was still possible and that a lack of breakthrough could be bad for both Britain and Europe.
“We should do everything possible to find an agreement … so that we do not increase the negative impact on our economies,” she said in Lisbon.
The trade talks continue despite Britain not letting go of an “Internal Markets Bill”, which would override parts of the Brexit treaty that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson struck with the European Union last year.
British MPs are expected on Tuesday evening to approve the bill, after which the legislation will go to the unelected upper House of Lords for scrutiny.
Some Conservative MPs are still opposed to what ministers admit would be a breach of international law, including Johnson’s predecessor, former prime minister Theresa May.
She said the bill would “lead to untold damage to the UK’s reputation and put its future at risk” and that she could not support it.
The proposed law has infuriated the Europeans – who have demanded that it be withdrawn or amended before a deadline of Wednesday (Sept 30) this week.
Johnson argues the bill is only intended as a “safety net” against what he claimed are EU threats to impose tariffs on UK internal trade and even stop food going from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland.
The EU on Monday reiterated that it would not walk away from the trade talks despite the bill, but that it would pursue Britain through legal proceedings.
An EU spokesman on Tuesday said Brussels would respond “in the next few days” on the issue.
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