Brexit brinkmanship: UK tells EU door still open for deal

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and British Prime Minister’s Europe adviser David Frost 5 are seen at start of the first round of post -Brexit trade deal talks between the EU and the United Kingdom, in Brussels, Belgium March 2, 20
European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and British Prime Minister’s Europe adviser David Frost 5 are seen at start of the first round of post -Brexit trade deal talks between the EU and the United Kingdom, in Brussels, Belgium March 2, 20

LONDON, Oct 19 — Britain said today the door was still open if the European Union wanted to make some small concessions to save Brexit trade talks, but that unless the bloc budged there would be a no-deal exit in 10 weeks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday there was no point in continuing talks and it was time to prepare for a no-deal departure when Britain’s informal EU membership – known as the transition period – ends on Dec. 31.

But Michael Gove, his Brexit supremo who favours a deal, has struck a more conciliatory tone, saying agreement could be reached if the bloc compromised.

“It would be sensible at this point for them to go that extra mile, to come closer to us on the points that remain for discussion,” added British Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.

“We hope that they could come forward now with some relatively small but important changes which respect us as an independent sovereign nation,” he told Sky News.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier had been due in London for talks with British counterpart David Frost this week. Instead, they will now speak by telephone today to discuss the structure of future talks, Barnier’s spokesman said.

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic is due in London for a meeting on implementation of the 2020 divorce deal with Gove.

Negotiations broke down on Thursday when the European Union demanded Britain give ground. Issues still to be resolved include fair competition rules, dispute resolution and fisheries.

EU diplomats and officials cast Johnson’s move as a frantic bid to secure concessions before a last-minute deal was done, and European leaders have asked Barnier to continue talks.

‘A deal, but not at any price’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said compromises on both sides would be needed. French President Emmanuel Macron said Britain needed a Brexit deal more than the 27-nation EU.

“We are ready for a deal, but not at any price,” he said.

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

Britain is launching a campaign this week urging businesses to step up preparations for that. In a statement accompanying the launch, Gove says: “Make no mistake, there are changes coming in just 75 days and time is running out for businesses to act.”

More than 70 British business groups representing over 7 million workers on Sunday urged politicians to get back to the negotiating table next week and strike a deal.

“With compromise and tenacity, a deal can be done. Businesses call on leaders on both sides to find a route through,” they said. — Reuters

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