Michel Barnier arrives in London to resume face-to-face Brexit talks as Lord Frost says ‘it is late, but a deal is still possible’ if Brussels respects Britain’s sovereignty
- Michel Barnier arrived in London on Friday evening to resume trade talks
- Face-to-face talks were suspended after EU official tested positive for Covid
- Formal talks will now take place over weekend as hopes of breakthrough grow
- Lord Frost said ‘it is late’ but a trade agreement with Brussels ‘is still possible’
The EU’s top Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier arrived in London to resume face-to-face Brexit talks tonight, with his UK counterpart saying that the hour ‘is late’ but that a deal is ‘still possible’ if the bloc is willing to respect British sovereignty.
Mr Barnier said he was ‘very happy to be back in London’ and vowed to ‘continue the work with patience and determination’, with the two sides deadlocked on fishing rights and the so-called ‘level playing field’ on rules.
The Frenchman, who arrived at St Pancras International on Friday evening, had said this morning that the ‘same significant divergences persist’.
Lord Frost said at lunchtime he believes a deal can still be achieved as he vowed to ‘continue to talk until it’s clear’ that the two sides cannot reach an agreement.
However, he said for a deal to be done it ‘must fully respect UK sovereignty’ as he stressed that is ‘not just a word’ but something which has ‘practical consequences’.
He said Britain must have full control of its borders and its fishing waters if a deal is to be struck.
Top level talks were suspended last week after a member of the EU negotiating team tested positive for coronavirus.
Michel Barnier arrives at St Pancras International in London on Friday evening to resume face-to-face talks on an EU trade deal
Lord Frost said he believes a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU ‘is still possible’ as Michel Barnier heads to London this evening to resume face-to-face talks
The latest round of face-to-face talks will take place over the weekend amid hopes of a deal being in sight by the start of next week.
Mr Barnier is due to come to the UK after he has briefed EU ambassadors and the European Parliament on the state of the discussions.
He will also reportedly hold showdown talks with eight EU fisheries ministers amid speculation the EU could be poised to back down on the issue.
Mr Barnier’s trip to London appeared to be in doubt last night following reports he had threatened to walk away from negotiations unless Downing Street signalled a willingness to compromise on the remaining points of contention.
But he tweeted this morning: ‘In line with Belgian rules, my team and I are no longer in quarantine. Physical negotiations can continue. I am briefing Member States & [the European Parliament] today.
‘Same significant divergences persist. Travelling to London this evening to continue talks w/[Lord Frost] + team.’
Negotiations continued remotely over the past week but it is hoped in person talks will spark a breakthrough.
Lord Frost said he believes a deal ‘is still possible’ but warned the EU must respect British sovereignty if talks are to reach a successful conclusion.
He tweeted: ‘I look forward to welcoming Michel Barnier and his team to London and to resuming face-to-face talks tomorrow. We are glad all are safe and well.
‘Some people are asking me why we are still talking. My answer is that it’s my job to do my utmost to see if the conditions for a deal exist. It is late, but a deal is still possible, and I will continue to talk until it’s clear that it isn’t.
‘But for a deal to be possible it must fully respect UK sovereignty. That is not just a word – it has practical consequences. That includes: controlling our borders; deciding ourselves on a robust and principled subsidy control system; and controlling our fishing waters.
‘We look to reach an agreement on this basis, allowing the new beginning to our relationship with the EU which, for our part, we have always wanted. We will continue to work hard to get it – because an agreement on any other basis is not possible.’
There are now just five weeks until the end of the ‘standstill’ post-Brexit transition period.
A failure to strike an accord would result in a chaotic divorce on January 1, with the two sides forced to trade on World Trade Organisation terms which would see tariffs imposed on goods.
There is now massive pressure on negotiators to conclude the talks as soon as possible because of the amount of time it will take the EU to ratify and roll out any deal.
There are fears that if talks continue beyond next week then the bloc could struggle to complete the ratification and implementation process before the end of the transition period.
It came as it emerged EU negotiators are looking at a compromise on the issue of fishing rights.
Mr Barnier is said to be meeting with a selection of EU fisheries ministers and diplomats believe he will outline a potential climbdown which could get a deal over the line.
He is expected to tell ministers that a concession in the row over future access to British waters is needed to secure an overall trade deal.
EU diplomats believe an olive branch on fishing could give the UK negotiating team some room to soften its stance on the other key sticking points.
An EU diplomat said: ‘That’s the price the UK needs to pocket for a compromise on the level playing field.’
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