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The Prime Minister will fly in to the Belgian city with Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost to meet the presidents of the European Commission and Council to break the deadlock, reports in The Times say. Talks on a new pact to cover everything from trade to fisheries to security from 2021 have reached an impasse before a key deadline at the end of June, when the bloc and London are to assess their progress.
The UK left the EU on January 31 but the main terms of its membership remain in place during a transition period until the end of this year, allowing it time to negotiate a new free trade deal with Brussels.
The news comes after the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the bloc is “open” to a two-year Brexit delay.
In a letter to the Westminster leaders of the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Green Party and Alliance Party, Mr Barnier said the option of an extension to the Brexit transition period is available if the UK wants it.
In his letter, Mr Barnier said: “Such an extension of up to one or two years can be agreed jointly by the two parties.
“The European Union has always said that we remain open on this matter.
“Any extension decision has to be taken by the Joint Committee before July 1, and must be accompanied by an agreement on a financial contribution by the United Kingdom.”
But the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost hit back, telling MPs the “firm policy” of the Government remains not to extend beyond the end of the year.
Mr Frost told the Commons Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union on Wednesday: “That is the firm policy of the Government, that we will not extend the transition period and if asked we would not agree to it.”
Asked whether it was possible to reach a trade agreement in the short time remaining, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said: “My judgment is that it’s perfectly possible to do so.”
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“The principal difficulty is not a difficulty of technical detail – the technical detail on both sides is well understood – it’s a difference of political position, and I hope that we can break that impasse.”
Mr Frost urged the EU to “evolve” to reach an agreement saying the bloc’s current mandate was – in key areas – “not a mandate that is likely to produce an agreement”.
He said: “So if you are asking, do we think the EU needs to evolve its position to reach an agreement, yes we do.”
Asked about Mr Barnier, Mr Frost said: “It is the job of a good negotiator – and he is one – to assess reality and the genuine positions of the other side and genuine ability to move and if you don’t possess reality in a cold way then you don’t get agreement.”
Mr Frost said it was also proving difficult to reach a deal with the EU on fishing rules by July, as the sides aspired to do in a joint political declaration.
He said: “I’m beginning to think we might not make it by June 30, though we’ll keep trying.”
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