U.K. Warns EU Talks This Week Are ‘Moment of Reckoning’ for Deal
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U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said a trade deal with the European Union is “there for the taking,” but warned the British government won’t accept the bloc’s positions on fisheries and state aid.
“No other country would accept being bound or controlled by the EU’s rules,” Raab told Sky News ahead of the next round of negotiations in London. “This week is an important moment for the EU to really effectively recognize that those two points of principles are not something we can just haggle away — they are the very reasons we are leaving the EU.”
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Time is running out to secure an agreement when the Brexit transition period expires at the end of the year. Without one, the U.K. will default to trading with the bloc on terms set by the World Trade Organization, meaning the return of tariffs and quotas as well as extra paperwork for businesses.
On fisheries, the EU is seeking to keep the access its fisherman currently have to U.K. waters to protect jobs and coastal communities, while Britain wants reduced access for EU boats and to make it conditional on regular negotiations. On state aid, the British government wants freedom to chart its own course, with the EU demanding to know the details.
Negotiators have scheduled eight hours of talks on both issues this week, according to an agendapublished on Friday.
Ahead of the meetings, the U.K.’s chief negotiator, David Frost, warned that his side would “not blink” and is not “scared” of walking away without a deal, contrasting Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s approach with that of his predecessor, Theresa May.
“A lot of what we are trying to do this year is to get them to realize that we mean what we say and they should take our position seriously,” Frost said in an interview with the Mail on Sunday.
Michel Barnier, the bloc’s top negotiator, said last week he was “worried” and “disappointed” by the current state of the talks, saying Britain will need to shift its position if it is to reach an agreement.
Meanwhile the EU hit back at reports in the British media that Barnier is being sidelined in an attempt to push forward a trade agreement, calling them “unfounded rumors.”
“Whoever wants to engage with the EU on Brexit needs to engage with Michel Barnier,” said Sebastian Fischer, a Brussels-based spokesman for the German government, whose country holds the EU presidency. “He is the EU’s Brexit chief negotiator and enjoys the full trust, support and confidence of the EU27,” the German diplomat wrote in a tweet.
The standoff comes amid warnings from British businesses, particularly the haulage industry, about the U.K.’s readiness for the end of the Brexit transition period, with possible disruption to supply chains at ports.
Speaking to the BBC later on Sunday, Raab said earlier planning for a no-deal Brexit and the measures put in place during the coronavirus pandemic have put the U.K. “in a much stronger place” to mitigate risks. “But we’d much rather have a deal with the EU.”
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