Brexit breakthrough? UK and EU agree to intensify trade talks

Britain and the European Union have agreed to intensify trade talks and work on legal texts, a breakthrough of sorts after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was walking away from negotiations that had been deadlocked for weeks.

After a weekend of both sides trading blame for the lack of movement in talks and calling on the other to move first, chief negotiators David Frost and Michel Barnier were said to have agreed to a British demand to start working on legal texts.

With just over two months before Britain ends a status quo transition arrangement with the EU, any chance of securing a deal to protect billions of dollars in trade was hanging in the balance after both sides called on the other to move first.

It seemed that to try to restart the talks, chief negotiators David Frost and Michel Barnier decided to jump together, although with the two sides still far apart on key issues, any agreement may be hard to come by.

"It is the case that my colleague David Frost was in conversation with Michel Barnier and I believe it is the case that Michel Barnier has agreed both to the intensification of talks and also to working on legal texts," Michael Gove, London's point man on the divorce deal, told parliament, saying he had to check to make sure of the agreement.

"There has been a constructive move on the part of the European Union and ... I prefer to look forward in optimism rather than necessarily to look back in anger."

Gove's new-found optimism was in stark contrast to his tone just 20 minutes or so earlier when he issued the EU another ultimatum that it must "fundamentally change" its approach if it wanted to rescue trade talks.

The EU's chief negotiator Barnier tweeted: "I just spoke to David Frost ... I confirmed that the EU remains available to intensify talks in London this week, on all subjects, and based on legal texts."

Deal possible?

What looks like the possible resumption of talks comes after a weekend when both sides blamed the other for their all but failure. But it by no means ensures that Britain and the EU will reach an agreement.

Negotiations broke down on Thursday, when the EU demanded Britain give ground, especially over fair competition rules, including state aid, and fisheries.

In turn, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday there was no point in continuing talks, saying Britain would "prosper mightily" without a trade agreement, or as the British government describes it: an "Australian-style" deal.

That would mean the United Kingdom trading on World Trade Organization terms: Tariffs would be imposed under WTO rules, likely causing significant price rises.

Such a scenario would throw $900 billion in annual bilateral trade into uncertainty and could snarl the border, turning parts of the southeastern county of Kent into a vast truck park.

Gove, in parliament, repeated Britain's demands.

"We have to be in control of our own borders, our fishing grounds, we have to set our own laws; We have to be free to thrive as an independent free trading nation, embracing the freedoms that flow as a result," he told parliament.

Fair competition

Brussels wants Britain to move on both fair competition guarantees, or the so-called level playing field, and on fisheries, which President Emmanuel Macron insists should offer more for the French side.

A no-deal finale to Britain's five-year Brexit drama would disrupt the operations of manufacturers, retailers, farmers and nearly every other sector - just as the economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic worsens.

Regardless, Britain is launching a campaign this week urging businesses to step up preparations for a no-deal departure. "Make no mistake, there are changes coming in just 75 days and time is running out for businesses to act," Gove said in an earlier statement.

Source: Successful Farming