Brexit: Michel Barnier heads to UK as trade talks restart

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image copyrightReuters

image captionMichel Barnier last came to London for trade talks in late September

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will arrive in London later to resume talks over a post-Brexit trade agreement, after a week-long standoff.

The Frenchman will meet his UK counterpart Lord David Frost, after the pair agreed to restart face-to-face talks during a phone call on Wednesday.

Officials from both sides will hold “intensified” daily talks in the run up to December’s deadline for a deal.

No 10 warned that “significant gaps” remain in the most difficult areas.

Negotiations stalled last week after a summit in Brussels where EU leaders called on the UK to “make the necessary moves” towards a deal.

But the UK side agreed to resume talks after Mr Barnier said “compromises on both sides” were needed, in a speech on Wednesday.

Both sides are seeking an agreement to govern their trading relationship once the UK’s post-Brexit transition period ends in January 2021.

Key areas of disagreement include fishing rights, post-Brexit competition rules and how any deal would be enforced.

In a statement announcing the resumption of talks, No 10 spokesperson said it was “entirely possible that negotiations will not succeed”.

But, they added: “We are ready, with the EU, to see if it is possible to bridge them in intensive talks.”

Format for talks

In line with a demand made by the UK, both sides will resume talks on all subjects based on proposed legal texts prepared by officials.

They have also agreed that “nothing is agreed” until progress has been reached in all areas – which has been a key demand of the EU.

An “initial phase” of face-to-face talks will run until Sunday, with subsequent negotiations planned in both Brussels and London.

These later talks could either take place in person or be held via video link if Covid restrictions apply, if both sides agree.

You could be forgiven for thinking that what we’ve witnessed over the past few days is a bit of political theatre.

Cover for the government – post chest-beating- to return to the negotiating table where they know the time has now come for tough compromises to be made.

EU leaders also went out of their way to sound tough on Brexit at their summit last week. Privately, a number of EU figures now admit it was a misstep.

But EU leaders play to the domestic gallery too. They wanted to show they were “standing up to the UK” – that leaving the EU doesn’t pay and that EU interests would be defended.

The two sides have been at odds over the issue of so-called “state aid” rules, which limit government help for industry in the name of ensuring fair economic competition.

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