Send in the big guns! Boris to personally fly to Brussels as trade talks judder to halt

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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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We’re out! Britain rejects EU offer of two-year Brexit extension

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But British counterpart David Frost insisted the deadline remains because the country needs political and economic freedom and does not want to pay huge amounts into EU coffers. Mr Frost said it is the “firm policy of the Government that we will not extend” the transition period and “we would not agree to it” if asked. He added: “We have always put a lot of emphasis on economic and political freedom at the end of this year and on avoiding ongoing significant payments into the EU budget.

“And, of course, those things are accomplished by ending the transition period at the end of the year.”

Under the terms of withdrawal from the EU, Britain only has until July 1 to decide whether to extend the transition period.

Mr Barnier had repeated the bloc’s openness to an extension in a letter to leaders of smaller parties in Westminster, including the SNP, Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru after they contacted him about the talks.

He said: “Such an extension of up to one or two years can be agreed jointly by the two parties. The EU has always said we remain open on this.”

The Brexit transition began when the UK legally left the EU on January 31 and will conclude at the end of the year.

PM Boris Johnson will meet EU leaders next month when it had been hoped the outline of an agreement could be agreed.

But Mr Frost said there is a long way between the UK and the bloc on reaching a trade deal and urged Brussels to make proper compromises.

He told MPs the UK believes the EU’s approach “in key areas is not a mandate that is likely to produce an agreement”.

He added: “If you’re asking do we think the EU needs to evolve its position to reach an agreement? Yes, we do.”

The EU’s demand for fishing rights to remain the same as they are now is a major stumbling block.

Mr Frost said: “To be fair, Mr Barnier has given a few public signals that he thinks this may not be a completely realistic position and we’ll have to see if they can move forward on that. Clearly it’s not a runner for us.”

Mr Frost said it is the job of a good negotiator like his counterpart to “assess reality and the genuine positions of the other side”.

He said: “If you don’t assess reality in a cold way then you don’t get agreements, and I would expect he’d be doing that, in fact I’m sure he is.”

Mr Frost said there is also a big gap over EU demands for so-called level playing field rules being established.

He said: “We have a fundamental disagreement at the moment on most aspects of the level playing field.” 

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Brexit deal: Could the UK be facing no deal? Time running out for Barnier

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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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‘Beyond audacious!’ UK accused of ‘fanciful demands’ in EU talks – trade deal at risk

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Boris Johnson successfully signed a withdrawal agreement with the European Union towards the end of last year, with the inclusion of small amendments to the Irish backstop, an issue that was a thorn in the attempts of predecessor Theresa May to get her deal voted through the UK parliament. But the Prime Minister had no such problems, using the Conservative Party’s huge 80-seat majority gained when crushing political rivals in December’s general election to get his amended withdrawal agreement voted through by MPs and deliver on his promise to “get Brexit done” on January 31. The UK and EU quickly got trade talks underway, with Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost taking a team to Brussels to meet one led by Brussels counterpart Michel Barnier.

But already both sides have traded vicious insults over each other’s respective negotiating stances in talks, with huge cracks widening from bitter disagreements over a number of crucial demands being made in the post-Brexit agreement.

Alistair Jones, Associate Politics Professor, De Montfort University in Leicester, said the EU has offered no surprises with its negotiating strategy in trade talks, adding “there was never going to be much room for improvement”.

But he is critical of the UK’s approach in expecting the EU to bow down to a number of its demands, some of which he describes as “beyond audacious”.

Mr Jones told Express.co.uk: “The EU has been its usual legalistic self. Noting the need to aggregate the position of 27 countries into a common negotiating position, there was never going to be much room for flexibility.

“The UK’s position has been the typical British exceptionalism, where Frost has adopted the Johnson approach of expecting the EU to bow down to the UK demands.

“As an example, the UK wants to have input into any future application by a third party to join the EU, and for the EU to take into consideration UK interests in any such negotiations. This goes beyond audacious.

“The UK has refused point blank to let the ECJ (European Court of Justice) have any role in the UK post-Brexit, but expects the EU to bow down to such fanciful demands.”

Mr Johnson’s insistence on a trade deal being signed with the EU before the end of the transition period on December 31 and his refusal to ask for an extension to this deadline appears to be adding increasing tension to proceedings.

The move has infuriated the EU, with Brussels warning the tight deadline leaves no time to get a comprehensive deal in place.

Following the latest round of negotiations, Mr Frost warned the EU and his counterpart Mr Barnier to change their stance in a number of areas before the next round of talks on June 1.

But Professor Alex de Ruyter, Director of the Centre for Brexit Studies at Birmingham City University, has issued a chilling warning to the Prime Minister and his negotiating team.

He told this website: “Will the EU change its current position? This presupposes that both sides have equal bargaining power. They don’t.

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“The UK is a middle-sized economy with about 65 million people. The EU is a trade bloc with a population of about 450 million. So no, I don’t expect the EU to change their stance.

“If we look at the key areas of disagreement; fisheries and so-called ‘level playing field’ provisions.

“Fishing (whilst a totemic issue for the UK, despite its trivial economic contribution at about 0.01 percent of our GDP) is also equally totemic for EU countries with equally strong maritime traditions; the Netherlands, France, Spain, Denmark, for example.

“Regarding the EU insisting on the UK abiding by level playing field provisions around, for example, labour laws, state aid, and environmental standards etc.

“This is an existential issue for the EU in that an ex-member state cannot be seen to extract favourable concessions on Single Market access, least other EU countries such as Poland and Hungary kick-off and start demanding similar treatment.

“At that point, the whole Single Market really could unravel.”

Tim Bale, Deputy Director of the UK in a Changing Europe think tank and Professor of Politics at the Queen Mary University of London, said the EU could relent on some aspects of the post-Brexit trade deal, but warned it will not start handing out favourable terms to a country that is no longer one of the bloc’s member states.

He said: “This is a negotiation – the EU will make concessions in some areas, maybe even on something contentious like fishing.

“But what it won’t compromise on is the principle that you don’t get to enjoy most of the benefits of belonging to the EU once you’re no longer a member state.”

Mr Jones added: “The EU have been very clear that they are sticking to the documentation, such as the political declaration, signed off by the UK and the EU.

“That cannot be changed, despite British requests to do so.”

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Bolsonaro says in video he tried to change police to prevent family being 'screwed'

RIO DE JANEIRO/BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said he was unwilling to see his family get “screwed” because of his inability to change law enforcement officials, according to a video released on Friday set to deepen the political crisis surrounding the president.

In the recording of an April 22 ministerial meeting, which forms part of a criminal investigation and was released by a Supreme Court justice on Friday, Bolsonaro said it was his prerogative to change security officials, their bosses or even a minister.

“I’ve tried to change our security people in Rio de Janeiro officially, and I wasn’t able to. That’s over. I won’t wait for my family or my friends to get screwed,” Bolsonaro said.

“If you can’t change (the official), change his boss. You can’t change the boss? Change the minister. End of story. We’re not kidding around,” he added.

Writing on Facebook after the release of the video, Bolsonaro said there was “no indication of interference in the federal police.”

In a radio interview with Jovem Pan, he said he had been talking about his own personal security and not senior members of the federal police.

The public airing of the video comes at a bad time for Bolsonaro. His political woes have led to rumblings about impeachment.

Bolsonaro has been criticized for his handling of Brazil’s worsening coronavirus outbreak. Brazil now has the second highest number of infections, behind the United States.

Supreme Court Justice Celso de Mello ordered the partial release of the video. It is one component of a criminal investigation over allegations by former Justice Minister Sergio Moro that Bolsonaro leaned on him to change senior members of the federal police in Rio. Moro quit last month.

Before becoming president, Bolsonaro represented Rio state as a federal lawmaker for nearly 30 years. His son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, also got his start there, and is under investigation over allegations of corruption.

Kim Kataguiri, a member of congress and one-time Bolsonaro ally, said on Twitter the video “proves” Bolsonaro had interfered in the federal police to protect his children.

Brazilian political parties are also investigating the president’s conduct. In one of those probes, the parties have asked for the seizure of Bolsonaro’s cell phone.

The national security adviser, former General Augusto Heleno, said in a statement he was outraged by the “inconceivable” request for the president’s phone. It could “have unpredictable consequences for the stability of the country,” he said.

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Ministers rejected school reopening plan recommended by Sage experts

A low-risk scenario where pupils in England would attend school on alternating weeks was presented to the government as the most likely way to gain popular support before ministers instead settled on their plan for a widespread reopening on 1 June, newly published papers have revealed.

The government’s plan for reopening schools to entire classes of reception, year 1 and year 6 pupils on 1 June was not among the nine scenarios modelled for Sage by the Department for Education. But one of the scientists’ preferred options of splitting classes and having pupils attend on alternate weeks, which they said had “particular potential merit”, was passed over.

The papers of scientific advice prepared for Sage and its subcommittees reveal high levels of uncertainty around different scenarios for school reopenings, and over the likelihood of transmission of the Covid-19 virus by children of different ages.

One of the most recent papers, discussing the effects of increasing school attendance on transmission, concludes: “There is substantial uncertainty, with the relative contribution of school openings being driven also by the relative susceptibility and infectivity of children of different ages compared to adults, as well as the extent to which social distancing is or is not sustained in the wider population.”

The stash of documents released by Sage and the government on Friday afternoon show the scientific advisers wrestling with questions of how easily children could transmit coronavirus, with the experts conceding that exposure outside the schoolyard was likely to be highly influential.

Collectively, the scientific advice appears to do little to assuage fears among parents and teachers over the potential risks in reopening schools to reception, year 1 and year 6 as soon as 1 June, as Boris Johnson pledged earlier this month. On Thursday the governments of both Scotland and Northern Ireland announced that schools in those countries would not return until after the summer holidays.

A modelling paper stated: “The modelling consistently suggests that resuming early-years provision has a smaller relative impact than primary school, which in turn has a smaller relative impact than resuming secondary schooling. However, this analysis does not incorporate potential for indirect impacts on contacts outside of school – which may differ by age of child.”

The modelling of infection spread – carried out by four institutions, including Public Health England – also did not account for the activities of children within schools: “It is important to understand what is going on inside of the school (eg physical distancing, hygiene measures, and more). The potential effect of such actions is not incorporated into the modelling.”

Sage looked at the modelling for nine different scenarios outlined by the Department for Education, from total closure to full reopening. But none of the published scenarios included the three year groups that the government eventually chose.

The committee that examined the modelling appeared to favour two scenarios that would have split both primary and secondary school classes and have different groups of children attend on alternate weeks, labelled scenario seven, which would have seen a low level of potential transmission according to the four results.

The recent paper on modelling continued: “Scenario 7 (alternating one/two weeks on, one/two weeks off) may be a good way to stop extensive transmission chains in schools. When this effect in schools is embedded into the wider community, the impact is less strong, but still has some value in reducing overall R.” But it added: “The modelling of Scenario 7 is the least robust of the scenarios, and further exploration is needed.”

Under “behavioural factors” the committee’s advice stated: “Scenario 7 is likely to be the most effective strategy to make school attendance normative. If steps are taken to synchronise attendance for families with multiple children, this may be the most effective at enabling parents to return to work.

“Scenario 7b, where children alternate in and out of school on a weekly basis, was perceived to be potentially preferable – both developmentally and practically – for young children and working parents.”

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The group looking at the role of children in transmission was most supportive of the reopening option involving split classes coming in on alternating weeks, across both primary and secondary schools.

“Although not initially one of the options proposed by DfE, options 7b (classes split in two, with children attending on alternate weeks) emerged from the joint discussions as having particular potential merit for further consideration,” according to one paper prepared for a meeting on 30 April, just days before Boris Johnson’s announcement on 10 May that primary schools would reopen.

Callout

callout-coronavirus

One paper prepared by Sage’s modelling and behavioural subgroups on 16 April warned that, as a result of school closures, some children would have “experienced a shock to their education which will persist and affect their educational and work outcomes for the rest of their lives”.

The experts conceded that “many children will adapt and be just fine”, with lockdown providing some families the chance to “bond more closely”, but they raised serious concerns about children who were already vulnerable, in particular those with special educational needs and disability.

A period of home learning, they added, would reinforce existing inequalities between children, while months off school would mean emerging learning difficulties were missed.

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Germany on the brink: Economic slump of at least ten percent – Merkel faces grim forecast

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The federal government currently predicts an economic slump of 6.3 percent. However, in a damning prediction for the economy, the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) is predicting an even worse economic slump. DIHK president, Eric Shweitzer stated Germany’s economy will drop by at least ten percent going forward.

If Germany were to reach the double-digit figures, it would represent the greatest decline seen in the country since the post-war period.

Mr Schweitzer said: “Based on our survey results, we currently have to assume a decline in gross domestic product in the double-digit percentage range.

“When we look around the world, we now feel all the signs of a global economic crisis.”

In order to try and salvage the economy, the German government passed a vast €750billion (£669billion) aid package in March.

The government has also pledged to take on debt for the first time since 2013.

There are also tax relief measures for small to medium-sized companies.

However, despite those measures, Mr Schweitzer insisted it is not enough.

He added: “That won’t be enough for many companies until the end of the year.

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“They must be able to offset the losses of this year against profits from previous years.

“That quickly brings money into the till.”

In a further damning update on the Germany economy, the state’s Bundesbank has stated the country will suffer a severe contraction in the second quarter.

The country suffered a 2.2 quarter on quarter shrink in the first three months of the year as it moves into recession.

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That represents the biggest fall since the 2008-09 financial crash.

The Bundesbank said: “Despite the easing measures that have been introduced, social and economic life in Germany is still very far from what was previously considered normal.

“The available economic indicators paint a correspondingly bleak picture.”

These measures comes as shops have begun to reopen in order to progress from lockdown.

However economic output is down across the continent.

France saw a 5.8 percent drop while Italy registered a 4.7 percent fall in GDP. 

Across the European Economic Area which includes Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, figures showed a drop of 3.8 percent in GDP.

Both France and Germany have led the way in creating a new €500billion (£446billion) to fund European recovery.

Germany, the largest economy in the bloc has come under severe pressure to agree a new relief fund by Italy and Spain who have both been severely hit by the virus.

Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg.

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Ardern becomes New Zealand's most popular PM in a century: poll

(Reuters) – Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand’s most popular prime minister in a century, a Newshub-Reid Research poll showed on Monday, thanks to her COVID-19 response that made the country among the most successful in curbing the spread of the disease.

The first public poll since the coronavirus crisis took hold showed popularity for Ardern’s Labour jumped 14 points to 56.5% – the highest for any party ever.

Conversely, the biggest party in parliament – the Nationals, slumped to 30.6%, after sliding by 12.7 points.

The poll was conducted between May 8 and May 16, with half of the responses taken after the federal budget on Thursday.

As preferred PM, Ardern was at 59.5%, up 20.8 points on the last poll and the highest score for any leader in the Reid Research poll’s history.

The poll took into account public sentiment in the final days of the country’s strict level three lockdown, which also got massive support with almost 92% respondents saying it was the right call.

The Pacific nation was locked down for more than a month under “level 4” restrictions that were eased by a notch in late April. It has continued to enforce strict social measures on many of its citizens and businesses, helping prevent widespread community spread of the virus.

Businesses in the country including malls, cinemas, cafes and gyms reopened last Thursday. (May 14)

Ardern’s stratospheric rise to become the country’s youngest prime minister and third woman to hold the office resulted in New Zealanders coining the phrase “Jacinda-mania.”

The rate of new cases have slowed dramatically in New Zealand in recent weeks. The virus has so far infected 1,499 people in New Zealand and killed 21. Globally more than 4.7 million cases have been reported while over 315,000 people have died, a Reuters tally shows.

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‘UNBALANCED’ EU savaged as Frost says Brexit talks need to change

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UK chief negotiator David Frost hit out at Brussels’ “ideological approach” as he warned there had been “very little progress” in the latest round of wrangling.

Amid heightened tensions Mr Frost hinted the UK may walk out of future talks if there wasn’t a “constructive process”.

And he warned that there needed to be a “change in EU approach” before the next round of discussions starts on 1 June.

Major sticking points between the UK and the bloc included the EU’s focus on a “so-called ‘level playing field’” as well as fishing rights in British waters, the chief negotiator claimed.

Mr Frost said in a fiercely worded statement: “We have just completed our third negotiating round with the EU, once again by video conference. I would like to thank Michel Barnier and the negotiating teams on both sides for their determination in making the talks work in these difficult circumstances.

“I regret however that we made very little progress towards agreement on the most significant outstanding issues between us.

He continued: “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.”

He added: “We’re not going to bargain away our values for the benefit of the British economy.”

And he warned that the two sides still have “very divergent” positions on the issues of fisheries while there was no “real discussion” on level playing field provisions.

Meanwhile, a senior UK official close to the negotations added that while the talks had been “constructive at times” they had also been “tetchy”.

They added: “Tetchiness can be a sign of difficulty but it can also be a sign that you are beginning to get to grips with it and understand and we have seen some signs of that in this round.”

 

And the official said while they were still “optimistic” a deal could be struck, there was still “fundamental difficulties” between the two sides

They said: “They problem continues to be that the EU thinks they are going to get a half-way house between what we are willing to see on so-called level-playing field and what they are willing to see.

“What we are willing to live with on fisheries and what they are willing to see. “

“As we have tried to make clear from the start there is not a half-way house. We can’t split the difference between areas where we control our own laws and waters and areas where we don’t.

“That is the fundamental difficulty that the EU has not yet accepted.”

They added: “We’ve got the highest respect for Michel Barnier.

“He is doing a very difficult job very well with a mandate he must know that in some areas is unnegotiable with us.”

In little over a month, Boris Johnson and EU leaders are scheduled to have a summit, likely over video, to analyse the talks’ progress.

Britain officially left the 27-nation bloc on January 31, but remains within the EU’s economic and regulatory orbit until the end of the year.

The two sides have until then to work out a new relationship covering trade, security and a host of other issues — or face a chaotic split that would be economically disruptive for both sides, but especially for the UK.

The UK-EU divorce agreement allows for the deadline to be extended by two years, but Mr Johnson’s government insists it will not lengthen the transition period beyond December 31.

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EU laid bare: Former MEP reveals where ‘REAL power’ lies in Brussels

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Last week, the European Union celebrated an important anniversary. Seventy years ago, on May 9, 1950, the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, presented the Schuman Declaration on the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community, which was the first of a series of European institutions that would ultimately become today’s EU. Built from the ruins of World War 2, in a bid to establish peace through economic collaboration, the original six-member EU grew to include 28 countries over the years, and only one of them has left so far, the UK.

Keeping the EU alive and going, though, has been incredibly difficult. Economic challenges, migration crisis, unemployment, and a growing nationalism in several of the member states are only some of the challenges that the bloc has faced throughout the years.

The most recent one is the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the EU to shut its borders, something that has not happened during its 70 years of its existence.

With the challenges faced with the coronavirus pandemic, growing nationalism and anti-EU movements, and a not-so stable economy, the 70th anniversary has found the EU in an existential crisis like never before.

As many wonder whether the bloc will survive, former Conservative MEP David Campbell Bannerman shed light on his time in Brussels in a recent report for the eurosceptic think tank ‘Red Cell’ titled “After Rue Belliard”.

In the report, Mr Cambpell reflected on how the EU works and and what makes the institution so deeply undemocratic.

He argued that once inside the European Parliament, it was incredibly easy to see where true power lies: still with the European Commission and Council.

The prominent Brexiteer wrote: “Too often I sat there listening and thinking: you know, if I reported what I am hearing now, people at home would think I am a crank, an extremist, exaggerating wildly.

“But it is here in front of me – it is real. The fact that the EU was poorly reported and seen to be irrelevant to most including many MPs was a big problem. It was not irrelevant but it was bad.

“That was my Churchill moment – when you think of Churchill being branded a warmonger for reporting factually the dangers of German rearmament and being banned from the BBC until 1939… So how do you tell people what is really happening here?

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“You only have to look at the voting lists and the colourful chart of votes that appears after every recorded electronic vote (Roll Call Votes) and you see how outnumbered we were on most issues of difference.

“Even with a large national delegation – we Conservatives had 20 MEPs, the Brexit Party at its height 29 MEPs; this too often gets lost in a chamber of 751 MEPs (in my time).”

Mr Campbell Bannermann added: “You glance over at where the real power in the EU lies: the federalist-leaning central EPP (European People’s Party) and the federalist-loving Socialist (SD) and Liberal (ALDE Group) blocs – these are the EU’s willing sheep, their little helpers for the real powers in the Commission and Council.

“If these three blocs favour EU legislation, all resistance is futile.”

The European Parliament favours political books, Mr Campbell Bannermann noted, in order to incentivise cross country parties in future.

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He concluded: “This Parliament is meant to be democratic – so often Remoaners would berate you: ‘But you are elected. Of course the EU is democratic’.

“Not if you understand the power structures, and the numbers.

“And how do you leave the EU in the face of such power and resources and numbers ranged against you?

“Nigel Farage was really a one person opposition in this sea of consensus, and instinctively said what so many of us thought.”

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