Brexit: ‘Final throw of the dice’ as trade talks resume

Lord Frost, the UK's chief Brexit negotiator, and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier, arrive for a meeting, in Brussels in August

EPA/YVES HERMAN / POOL

Crucial negotiations to secure a post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and the EU are to resume later.

UK chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost will meet EU counterpart Michel Barnier in Brussels to try to bridge the two sides’ “significant differences”.

A UK source told the BBC it could be the “final throw of the dice” to agree a deal before the end of the year.

BBC political correspondent Chris Mason said the mood was downbeat, but both sides still wanted a deal.

He quoted a UK government insider as saying: “Often the darkest hour comes just before dawn.”

Sunday’s meeting comes after talks between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen failed to deliver agreement.

  • What are the sticking points in Brexit trade talks?

  • Brexit: What is a level playing field?

The pair spoke on the phone for an hour on Saturday but failed to break the deadlock on “critical issues”.

In a joint statement issued afterwards they said fishing rights, competition rules and how any deal would be enforced were still causing problems.

They added: “Both sides underlined that no agreement is feasible if these issues are not resolved.”

Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen

However, Mr Johnson and Ms Von der Leyen said they “welcomed the fact that progress has been achieved in many areas”.

Both have agreed to talk again on Monday evening.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said the statements signalled “clearly” that a trade deal is out of reach right now, and “if no-one budges in the next few days, it’s simply not going to happen”.

Areas of disagreement

Lord Frost and his team of negotiators are due to travel back to Brussels on Sunday, where they will to try to work through areas of disagreement with their EU opposite numbers.

One of these is over access to UK waters by the EU’s fishing fleets.

Another is what measures there should be to ensure a “level playing field” for businesses on both sides of the Channel.

Also outstanding is any consensus on how any new agreements would be enforced, and about the role of the European Court of Justice.

If a deal is not reached, border checks and taxes will be introduced for goods travelling between the UK and the EU.

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Brexit – The basics

  • Brexit happened but rules didn’t change at once: The UK left the European Union on 31 January but leaders needed time to negotiate a deal for life afterwards – they got 11 months.
  • Talks are on again: The UK and the EU have until 31 December to agree a trade deal as well as other things, such as fishing rights.
  • If there is no deal: Border checks and taxes will be introduced for goods travelling between the UK and the EU. But deal or no deal, we will still see changes.

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‘Everyone’s best interests’

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, tweeted after Saturday’s statement was published, saying: “We will see if there is a way forward.”

Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin also tweeted, welcoming the news that the teams would resume trade talks.

He said: “An agreement is in everyone’s best interests. Every effort should be made to reach a deal.”

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said: “The British people were promised a deal and, with time running out, we urge both sides to get on with reaching an agreement.”

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Analysis box by Laura Kuenssberg, political editor

It’s not over, not yet.

The two sides in this complicated and drawn out process have agreed that it is worth trying one last time to find a way through their profound differences.

But the statements from the prime minister and the EU chief, Ursula von der Leyen, signal clearly that a trade deal is out of reach right now – spelling out that if no-one budges in the next few days, it’s simply not going to happen.

A feature of Brexit negotiations has often been the last minute stand off, the political emergency, before suddenly, lo and behold, a deal emerges from the wreckage.

By Monday night, that tradition may have been proven again.

Yet it seems there is a lot more to be done than ironing out a few last minute glitches.

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Even if the two sides agree a deal, there are still hurdles to overcome.

Any agreement reached will need to be turned into legal text and translated into all EU languages, then ratified by the European Parliament.

The UK government is likely to introduce legislation implementing parts of any deal reached, which MPs will be able to vote on.

And the 27 EU national parliaments could also need to ratify an agreement – depending on the actual contents of the deal.

The week to come

After the meetings between the teams on Sunday and the leaders’ talk on Monday, the UK Internal Market Bill will return to the House of Commons.

Certain clauses could allow the government to break international law, by overriding elements of the original treaty with the EU for Brexit – the withdrawal agreement.

The EU is unhappy with it, as is the House of Lords, which voted to scrap those clauses of the bill.

But the government is still backing its measures, which could cause tensions in the trade talks, and it is expected to push them through the Commons on Monday night.

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