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EU chief negotiator says bloc remains open to post-Brexit trade talks

The European Union has thrown the ball back to Britain's court, saying it is up to London to make the next move in negotiations after Prime Minister Boris Johnson threatened the end of post-Brexit trade talks.

Brussels, 19 October 2020 (dpa/MIA) – The European Union has thrown the ball back to Britain’s court, saying it is up to London to make the next move in negotiations after Prime Minister Boris Johnson threatened the end of post-Brexit trade talks.

“I confirmed that the EU remains available to intensify talks in London this week, on all subjects, and based on legal texts,” the European Union’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said on Monday after a phone call with his British counterpart David Frost.

“We now wait for the UK’s reaction,” he said.

The remarks come as both sides blame each other for the scant progress made in the high-stakes negotiations.

Last week EU leaders called for Britain to “make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible,” in order that a trade deal is in place by January 1.

Swiftly rejecting that approach, Johnson replied on Friday that negotiations should not continue unless the EU showed a fundamental shift in its approach.

While not quite completely calling off the talks, Johnson said his country would be prepared for an “Australia-style” deal.

Australia has no bespoke deal with the EU and trades on basic World Trade Organization terms, meaning both sides must contend with tariffs, quotas and other hurdles.

A British spokesperson on Monday described the call between Barnier and Frost as a “constructive discussion.”

“The UK has noted the EU’s proposal to genuinely intensify talks, which is what would be expected at this stage in a negotiation,” the spokesperson said.

“However, the UK continues to believe there is no basis to resume talks unless there is a fundamental change of approach from the EU,” the spokesperson said, adding that the EU would have to show willingness to compromise. “The two teams agreed to remain in close touch.”

After leaving the EU at the end of January, Britain entered a transition period that allows it to keep trading with EU countries on the same terms as before. The transition period runs out at the end of the year.

Over the past few months, multiple rounds of negotiations have shown little progress on three central issues, namely a level playing field to make competition fair, fisheries and governance.

While a new round of negotiations was initially scheduled to take place this week in London, the two parties opted for a phone call on Monday instead.

An EU diplomat told dpa last week that the bloc was in “interpretation mode” as to the fate of talks.

In parallel, a lower-level joint committee that oversees the implementation of the withdrawal agreement also met on Monday.

But the meeting of the joint committee provides no clarity as to the state of negotiations, as they merely oversee the technical implementations of the withdrawal agreement.

“Today’s meeting demonstrated the political will to move at pace on both sides,” European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said after the technical talks.

“This is necessary as, despite some progress, much work remains to be done by the UK,” Sefcovic said.

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