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Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost hosted his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, for dinner last night. Talks are set to resume in London today, but there has been little movement on the “significant differences” that divide them as they continue discussions surrounding the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc. Britain left the EU in January and is in a status quo transition period until the end of the year, when some companies fear disruption if the two fail to secure a free trade deal.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday: “Our position on our sovereignty, laws and fisheries is clear, we will not give up our rights as an independent state.
“We will continue to engage constructively with the EU on these key issues and will work hard to reach the broad outline of an agreement, but as we have been clear all along we are not asking for a special, bespoke or unique deal.”
Brussels still insists on maintaining its current fishing rights in British waters and wants London to agree to a number of EU regulations, including environmental standards, workers’ rights and state aid rules.
On the other hand, Mr Johnson is demanding the right to diverge from the bloc’s rules in order to strike trade agreements around the world.
As the clock ticks down and tensions mount, unearthed reports reveal how Brussels has adopted a tough negotiating stance since the very beginning.
A 2017 report by The Guardian cited leaked EU negotiating documents, which outlined the key guidelines for Mr Barnier.
Ending free movement of workers from EU states, budget contributions to Brussels and oversight by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) were central to former Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plans.
However, in language that echoed the tough line taken by the 27 other EU leaders, the paper spelt out Brussels’ aim to protect the rights of three million EU citizens living in Britain, extract cash from London to cover a wide range of existing commitments and ensure EU judges could hold Britain to the treaty after Brexit.
The document did not set out a figure on what Britain owed but said the exit treaty should have both set a “global amount” to honour financial obligations, subject to later adjustments and “a schedule of annual payments” that would have reflected the fact that loans and guarantees made by the EU while Britain was a member extended well beyond Brexit day.
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During the transition period, rules would have been enforced by the ECJ, the paper stated, in one of numerous references to the Luxembourg judges’ continuing jurisdiction over Britain.
The EU claimed that ECJ jurisdiction was the “only possible solution” and it had previously been a sticking point in other negotiations.
Relations with Switzerland have been repeatedly pushed to breaking point by the refusal of the Swiss to accept a role for “foreign judges” in enforcing the treaties.
An agreement between the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein was interpreted by the court of justice of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) states, but Britain argued that a special UK-EU court, or a more informal system without judges, would have been better suited.
The leaked document stated the EU would have considered an “alternative dispute settlement” system for the treaty but only if that was “equivalent” to the ECJ.
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Addressing concerns that Britain would have weakened rights for EU citizens, the paper also adopted tougher language on the rights of European citizens, insisting they had to be covered by the full range of rights after Brexit and crucially the words “derived from EU law” were added.
The original guidelines sent to the EU’s 27 capitals on March 31 referred only to the need to “settle the status and situations” of Europeans living in Britain and Britons living in Europe.
The updated draft said: “Agreeing reciprocal guarantees to safeguard the status and rights derived from EU law at the date of withdrawal of EU and UK citizens, and their families, affected by the UK’s withdrawal from the union will be the first priority for the negotiations.”
A separate “draft negotiating directive” drawn up by the European commission made clear that the ECJ had to oversee citizens’ rights.
It stated: “The jurisdiction of the court of justice of the EU (and the supervisory role of the commission) should be maintained. Those rights should be protected as directly enforceable vested rights for the lifetime of those concerned.”
A government spokesman told the Times at the time: “We have always been clear that securing the rights of EU citizens in the UK and those of UK citizens in the other member states is a priority for us.”
The paper did not include guidelines on future trade agreements but only dealt with the issues of Britain’s withdrawal.
Despite Mrs May’s efforts, the UK remains subject to EU law and the rulings of the European Court of Justice throughout the transition period.
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