Brexit trade talks kick off in Brussels with plenty of hand sanitiser

Analysis: Negotiators are far from a handshake for all sorts of reasons, finds Jon Stone

Thursday 05 March 2020 22:17 GMT
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Michel Barnier gives a press conference yesterday reporting on the first round of negotiations
Michel Barnier gives a press conference yesterday reporting on the first round of negotiations

Brexit talks are back, and they’re bigger than ever – literally. The second phase of negotiations, on trade, involves so many officials that the EU has had to rent a conference space on the edge of Brussels’ historic centre to house all 250 people needed.

At one stage this week around 10 working groups were taking place at the same time – the intensity of discussions down to the fact that Boris Johnson has set himself a deadline of the end of the year. Trade negotiators normally take years to reach consensus; it is yet to be seen how they will adapt to hard deadlines.

Given the global epidemiological circumstances, the large number of bureaucrats and negotiators converging in one place has presented a few challenges. Sources close to negotiations in Brussels were keen stress that officials had been given plenty of hand sanitiser, to avoid giving each other coronavirus. Symbolically, there was no handshake for cameras on the first day.

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