EXPRESSING its willingness for talks the EU said on Wednesday(21) that an agreement was still ‘within reach’ with 10 weeks to go as the union is ready for ‘negotiations 24/7’.
The EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told the European Parliament an agreement was still “within reach”.
“Time is of the essence … Along with our British counterparts, we must find solutions to the most difficult areas,” Barnier said, in comments that pushed sterling higher.
A frustrated EU and piqued Britain both exhorted each other this week to compromise to avoid a disruptive finale to the five-year Brexit drama that would add to economic pain from the coronavirus crisis.
“Time is very short and we stand ready to negotiate 24/7, on all subjects, on legal texts. The UK has a bit of a decision to make and it’s their free and sovereign choice,” European Council president Charles Michel told the European Parliament.
He said Britain’s answer would determine its level of access to the EU’s internal market of 450 million consumers, adding: “This is just common sense.”
London has this week refused to continue full negotiations, saying the EU must “fundamentally change” its stance.
The bloc sees this as bluff by prime minister Boris Johnson but has also extended an olive branch by talking up UK sovereignity, as well as the EU’s openess to discuss intensively, across the board and on specific legal texts.
A UK spokesman said London noted “with interest” Barnier’s comments that touch “in a significant way on the issues behind the current difficulties in our talks”.
Michel called for a “binding, independent arbitration” to redress market distortions swiftly, adding that London’s draft new Internal Market Bill – which, if adopted, would undermine Britain’s earlier divorce deal with the EU – only strengthened the bloc’s resolve to ensure tight policing of any new deal.
A deputy head of the bloc’s executive European Commission, Maros Sefcovic, also said London must respect its Brexit settlement with the EU regardless of the outcome of trade talks.
Michel said losing access to British waters would inflict “extraordinary damage” on the EU’s fishing industry and that the bloc was therefore seeking to prolong the status-quo just as London wanted to keep the EU’s market open for UK companies.
“But the UK wants access to the single market while at the same time being able to diverge from our standards and regulations when it suits them. You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” Michel said.