Wed | Oct 21, 2020

Brexit trade talks: both EU and UK dig in heels

Published:Friday | October 16, 2020 | 9:30 AM
European Commission's Head of Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom Michel Barnier leaves after addressing a media conference at an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, October 15, 2020. European Union leaders met in person for the first day of a two-day summit, amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic, to discuss topics ranging from Brexit to climate and relations with Africa. (Yves Herman, Pool via AP)

BRUSSELS (AP) — With both sides digging in their heels as another Brexit deadline passed Thursday, the European Union and Britain demanded concessions from one another in talks on a basic trade deal that would soften the economic blow of the coronavirus pandemic for all.

The EU leaders meeting in a summit on the day British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had set as a potential cutoff point for the acrimonious negotiations said in a joint statement it was now up to “the UK to make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible.”

London immediately took this as belligerent bluster and UK chief negotiator David Frost said he was surprised by the “suggestion that to get an agreement all future moves must come (the) UK.

It’s an unusual approach to conducting a negotiation.”

With negotiating teams ready to continue to seek a deal which could still come into effect when a Brexit divorce transition period ends on January 1, all eyes turned to London where Johnson was bound to announce his next move on Friday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the veteran diplomat, immediately sought to soothe tempers and said that “we asked Britain to be willing to compromise.

This of course means that we too have to make compromises.”

European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier said “the negotiations aren’t over,” adding that his team would be London-bound for more talks next week and planned to host negotiations in Brussels the week after that.

He also insisted that EU negotiators “are prepared to speed up negotiations,” countering Frost who said in a Tweet: “Surprised EU is no longer committed to working ‘intensively’ to reach a future partnership.”

Johnson had set the first day of the EU summit on Thursday as the deadline to get a trade and security deal to replace Britain’s EU membership that expired on January 31.

Instead of unfettered trade among EU member, a no-deal would leave both sides facing tariffs, custom duties and major regulatory burdens at a time when the pandemic has already created the worst economic crisis in decades.

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