Boris Johnson still refusing to restart Brexit negotiations despite ticking no-deal clock

Second phone call on Tuesday fails to convince UK to return to table

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Wednesday 21 October 2020 07:23
Brexit briefing: How long until the end of the transition period?

Brexit negotiators remained stood-down on Tuesday, despite a ticking clock and a further bid by the European Commission to restart collapsed talks

The UK rejected Brussels' proposals for further discussions in London this week after Boris Johnson accused the EU being too harsh and demanded a "fundamental change in approach"

Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart Lord Frost spoke on the telephone for the second day running in an attempt to patch up the situation – but to no avail.

The EU's chief negotiator said his message to his British counterpart during the call was that "we should be making the most out of the little time left", adding that the EU "door remains open".

Downing Street had been angered by a statement by EU leaders issued last week stating that the UK would have to be the one making concessions if a deal was to be agreed.

Mr Barnier and some EU leaders like Ms Merkel have spent the days since the statement trying to assuage British concerns.

Asked whether the EU would have to make concessions as well as the UK, a European Commission spokesperson said: "This is a question 101 for students in international negotiations. I think it's pretty obvious in order to come to an agreement both sides need to meet."

A statement issued from Downing Street following the call repeated word-for-word a previous comment from Monday. No.10 said the pair had "a constructive discussion" and that the would remain in contact.

Despite new reports that Mr Barnier might be planning to come to London later this week, his team said in the wake of the call that nothing had yet been confirmed.

In the pair's previous call on Monday the EU’s chief negotiator had said the bloc would be happy to hold talks on “all subjects, and based on legal texts” – a demand Mr Johnson had made as a condition for restarting negotiations.

But despite cabinet minister Michael Gove branding the intervention a “constructive move”, Downing Street was less upbeat, warning that “the UK continues to believe there is no basis to resume talks”.

Mr Barnier had wanted to come to London on Monday to hold discussions, and promised to work through the weekend, but No 10 had told him to stay away and said there would be “no point”.

Brexit trade talks have been at an impasse over issues including fishing access and state aid rules.

If no trade deal is agreed with the EU and implemented before the end of the year, the UK will leave the single market and customs union and begin to trade on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms.

UK businesses would have to pay high tariffs on goods and abide by restrictive quotas, which would cause serious economic disruption in both the short and long term. The arrangement is a default state of affairs and does not require the agreement of either side.

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