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Thu, 24 September 2020

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Britain ‘hands EU draft free trade agreement’ in bid to break Brexit deadlock

Britain ‘hands EU draft free trade agreement’ in bid to break Brexit deadlock

Both sides’ chief negotiators are set to give an update on the state of the talks on Friday.

3 min read

British negotiators have sought to break the deadlock over the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the European Union by submitting a draft free trade agreement, it has been reported.

With the latest round of talks on the UK-EU future relationship expected to wrap up on Friday, The Times and Bloomberg report that the British side presented a draft agreement based on areas of potential common ground with the bloc.

According to The Times, the “consolidated legal text” was handed over by Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator David Frost at a private dinner this week.

But a senior Brussels source dismissed the move, telling the paper it demonstrated the British side acting “under time pressure”.

The EU has so far insisted that the details of a free-trade agreement cannot be discussed without movement “in parallel” on key sticking points.

The long-running talks, which Brussels wants to wrap up by early October and the UK even sooner, remain deadlocked on a host of issues including access to Britain’s fishing waters post-Brexit; governance; and so-called level playing field requirements.

Britain is pushing for any agreement to respect its regulatory autonomy and status as an independent coastal state. 

Meanwhile the EU has been adamant that any deal cannot see Britain undercut its environmental and worker standards or state aid rules. 

Failure to strike a deal would leave the UK and EU trading on World Trade Organisation terms, imposing a host of tariffs and quotas once the current transition period covering the two sides’ relationship expires at the end of this year.

Both Mr Frost and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier are expected to give an update on the state of the talks on Friday.

Naomi Smith, CEO of the Best for Britain campaign group, which previously campaigned against Brexit and is now calling for a close relationship between the two sides, said: “Without serious compromises being made, any trade agreement signed won’t be worth the paper it’s written on. 

“That means businesses who have just about managed their way through lockdown without letting go of staff will be put in a very difficult position in the New Year.”

The bloc’s negotiators have also reportedly rejected a British request for a migration pact that would have allowed the government to carry on returning asylum seekers to European countries after the transition period ends.

From January 1 next year, Britain will lose the right to transfer refugees and migrants to the EU country in which they arrived under the bloc’s Dublin system.

The Guardian reports that EU member states have ruled out a British plan to recreate that system — including a reciprocal obligation for the UK to take in undocumented migrants arriving in the EU from the UK — once it fully leaves the bloc.

“The assessment is that this is very much picking and choosing aspects of the current EU system,” a European diplomat told the paper.

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