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Despite the ongoing effects of coronavirus, Brexit talks are pressing ahead, albeit with little progress being made as the UK and EU reach loggerheads. The process of negotiating the UK’s way out of the EU is far from over despite the fact the country left the bloc on January 31 this year, when coronavirus was first emerging in Europe.
January 31 marked the beginning of the ‘transition period’ for the UK leaving the EU – the UK is still in the single market, and must still uphold the rights of UK and EU citizens under agreements such as freedom of movement.
The main objective for UK negotiators is to ‘take back control’, and Boris Johnson has refused to make any concessions in agreements and still wants a “great relationship with our friends.”
UK and EU negotiators have remained in talks throughout the coronavirus crisis, but they are still struggling to agree on key issues, with reports that the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier is exasperated with the UK’s approach.
After the third round of talks in recent weeks, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost said: “I regret however that we made very little progress towards agreement on the most significant outstanding issues between us.
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“It is very clear that a standard Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, with other key agreements on issues like law enforcement, civil nuclear, and aviation alongside, all in line with the Political Declaration, could be agreed without major difficulties in the time available.
“Both sides have tabled full legal texts, there are plenty of precedents, and there is clearly a good understanding between negotiators.
“The major obstacle to this is the EU’s insistence on including a set of novel and unbalanced proposals on the so-called ‘level playing field’ which would bind this country to EU law or standards, or determine our domestic legal regimes, in a way that is unprecedented in Free Trade Agreements and not envisaged in the Political Declaration.
“As soon as the EU recognises that we will not conclude an agreement on that basis, we will be able to make progress.”
The EU believes if the UK gets access to unprecedented, privileged access to special trade agreements, it could undermine other member states.
On the UK side, ‘take back control’ is still the most prevalent message running through the ordeal, and making concessions to the EU could undermine the reason why Britain embarked on this journey after all.
Will there be a no deal Brexit?
With coronavirus going on, the news and Government agenda has been turned away from Brexit.
Governments of all countries have been pumping money and resources into fighting the crisis – and Europe has seen some of the highest death tolls in the world.
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More key talks will begin next week and the risk that the two sides may not reach an agreement before December is beginning to look more likely.
Mr Barnier and Mr Frost exchanged frosty letters last week, where but the TV host said the EU was treating the UK as an unworthy partner and it was not offering the same deals to the UK as it has to countries such as Canada and Japan.
Barnier responded by saying the exchange of letters was not the finest way to discuss what talks should be achieving.
The testy exchange has now led to a senior EU official saying there is a risk of stalemate if the EU did not see progress on its vital interests, including how to ensure fair competition, or a level playing field, between British and EU companies under a free-trade deal.
In terms of timetable, the process is already late running and the UK is not budging on the timetable, much to the frustration of the EU.
The UK still has time to ask for an extension to the transition period until July 1, however, the UK has maintained the position that this will absolutely not happen.
Last week the UK issued its ‘legal text’, which outlines what the UK’s goals are in all areas of discussion.
Mr Frost said: “We very much need a change in EU approach for the next Round beginning on 1 June.
“In order to facilitate those discussions, we intend to make public all the UK draft legal texts during next week so that the EU’s Member States and interested observers can see our approach in detail.
“The UK will continue to work hard to find an agreement, for as long as there is a constructive process in being, and continues to believe that this is possible.”
Most economists and business groups believe no deal would lead to economic harm.
For example, the Office for Budget Responsibility – which provides independent analysis of the UK’s public finances – believes a no deal Brexit would cause a UK recession.
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