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The two Brexit negotiating teams – led by the UK’s David Frost and European Union counterpart Michel Barnier – are meeting in Brussels as they desperately search for a breakthrough in talks that has so far been dominated by a refusal to give ground on a number of red lines. The chief negotiators will come together in a Joint Committee meeting on Monday, followed by three days of intensive talks between both sides, with Mr Frost and Mr Barnier holding their own private meeting on Friday. The negotiating teams will meet to discuss fisheries for a combined 10 hours over the two days – four hours on Tuesday, followed by a mammoth six hour stretch on Wednesday.
The EU is demanding any free trade deal and fishing agreement be part of the same overarching treaty, but the UK has so far refused to bow to pressure on this.
Both sides believe there is a deal to be done on fishing, with UK quotas increasing over time, but several key details still need to be rubber stamped.
Brexit talks have been thrown into chaos by the Government’s Internal Market Bill, which overrides key elements of the Withdrawal Agreement signed between Boris Johnson and the EU last year, with the UK accused of breaking international law by breaching it.
The move has left the EU furious, warning the proposed legislation must be removed or else the prospect of a deal being agreed is seriously at stake.
Downing Street is planning to delay enshrining the Internal Market Bill into law until December, and it could be amended if a trade deal can be agreed by the EU summit in Brussels on October 15.
But an EU diplomatic source warned the Bill could have to be changed eventually, and told The Daily Telegraph: “Things have improved but there is no way the EU will sign a trade deal when a gun is still on the table.
“We are looking for a deal and we are hearing positive noises from London but now is the time for the Brits to put the cards on the table.
“Nice words and mood music won’t cut it.”
Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney warned it would be an “enormous failure of politics and diplomacy” if a trade deal could not be agreed by October 31 – a deadline set by Mr Barnier earlier this month.
This would give EU Governments enough time to ratify any agreement before the end of the transition period on December 31.
But failure to come to terms on a deal before then would see the UK and EU trading on World Trade Organisation terms from January 1.
British negotiators want to agree a joint text for the deal by the EU summit on October 15 – a date that also coincides with a deadline set by Mr Johnson.
Another EU diplomat said: “It seems like the tide is turning. There is a sense of cautious optimism.
“It is encouraging that the UK is flagging it is still pursuing a deal but now it comes to substance. We need a significant move on the outstanding issues.”
A UK official pointed to the huge differences between the two sides on fisheries and the level playing field guarantees, adding: “We are now in the final period of negotiations.
“There remains a lot of work to be done.
“If the gaps in these areas are to be bridged, the EU’s more constructive attitude will need to be translated into more realistic policy positions.”
Ahead of next week’s talks, European Council President Charles Michel sent a warning to the UK.
He tweeted: “Access to the EU’s large market will no longer be sold off.
“From now on, we will better enforce the level playing field, in a market open to those who respect its standards. Whether they leave our Union or want to move closer to it.”
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