UK calls for 'more realism' from EU ahead of crunch Brexit talks

7 September 2020, 22:33 | Updated: 7 September 2020, 22:34

Lord Frost (L) is demanding "more realism" from Michel Barnier (R) and the EU
Lord Frost (L) is demanding "more realism" from Michel Barnier (R) and the EU. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The UK has called for "more realism" from the EU ahead of crunch Brexit negotiations in London this week.

Britain's chief negotiator Lord David Frost said progress must be made during Brexit talks over the next few days in order for a deal to be agreed by the end of the transition period.

He warned his European counterpart Michel Barnier that the two sides "can no longer afford to go over well-trodden ground" in the talks that have seemingly reached a stalemate.

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The EU chief will meet with the UK's team on Tuesday for the eighth round of negotiations following firm words from Downing Street on Sunday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson upped the ante over the weekend by giving Brussels a five-week deadline for trade talks to be successfully wrapped up in time for 31 December.

However, new Brexit legislation, which has left senior EU figures dismayed over concerns it will override key parts of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA), has threatened to derail talks.

Lord Frost will say: "Today, I will sit down with Michel Barnier and drive home our clear message that we must make progress this week if we are to reach an agreement in time.

"We have now been talking for six months and can no longer afford to go over well-trodden ground.

"We need to see more realism from the EU about our status as an independent country."

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He will say that Britain's position derives from the "fundamentals of being a sovereign state" and he will urge the bloc to "fully recognise this reality".

"If they can't do that in the very limited time, we have left then we will be trading on terms like those the EU has with Australia, and we are ramping up our preparations for the end of the year," Lord Frost will add.

Leading EU figures responded with anger to reports the UK Government was planning to table new legislation which could override key elements of the WA that underlined Britain's departure in January.

Mr Johnson's official spokesman said the government was proposing "limited clarifications" to the law to ensure ministers can preserve the gains of the Good Friday Agreement in the event of No Deal.

The Internal Market Bill, to be tabled in the House of Commons on Wednesday, will ensure goods from Northern Ireland continue to have unfettered access to the UK market while making clear that EU state aid rules - which will continue to apply in Northern Ireland - will not apply in the rest of the UK.

In addition, an amendment to the Finance Bill will give ministers the power to designate which goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are considered "at risk" of entering the EU single market and are therefore liable to EU tariffs.

The prime minister's spokesman said discussions were continuing with the bloc to resolve the outstanding issues relating to the Northern Ireland protocol, intended to ensure there is no return of a hard border with the Republic once the transition is over.

He said the legislative changes were a necessary "safety net" in the event that they were unable to come to an agreement.

But European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen warned there could be no backtracking by the UK on its previous commitments if it wanted to reach a free trade agreement.

"I trust the British Government to implement the Withdrawal Agreement, an obligation under international law and a prerequisite for any future partnership," she said.

"(The) protocol on Ireland-Northern Ireland is essential to protect peace and stability on the island and integrity of the single market."

Ireland's foreign minister Simon Coveney warned that abandoning the agreement would be "a very unwise way to proceed".

Mr Barnier said he would be seeking clarification about the UK's plans, telling French radio that honouring the WA was "a pre-condition for confidence between us because everything that has been signed in the past must be respected".