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Negotiations on trade and the future partnership following Brexit began in March, with the two sides attempting to strike a deal involving several elements, including fishing access, the EU’s level playing field, state aid and financial services. Boris Johnson refused to extend the Brexit transition period beyond December 31, leaving just a matter of months to get an agreement over the line. But following seven rounds of Brexit talks between the UK and EU, including the latest set of negotiations in Brussels this week, little progress has been made, with the threat of a no deal outcome increasing all the time.
Both negotiating teams, led by Michel Barnier for the EU and David Frost for the UK, have blamed each other for the repeated stalemates and lashed out at the other’s negotiating stances on several key red lines.
Speaking prior to the conclusion of the latest round of talks in the Belgian capital, Alex De Ruyer, Politics Professor at Birmingham City University and Director at the Centre for Brexit Studies, warned a no deal outcome is now a “very real possibility”.
He urged both sides to do everything possible to avoid this scenario and come to terms on a “mutually beneficial” agreement, but warned the UK pushing too hard to achieve all of its objectives could see the EU walking away from the negotiating table.
Professor De Ruyter told Express.co.uk: “It’s tautological to state that if we can’t agree a deal then there will be no deal. In any case, both sides know that this is a real risk in the present talks.
“The purpose of these is to find a mutually beneficial situation that is better for both sides than “no deal”. Negotiations are exactly that – they involve give-and-take on both sides and you should never expect to achieve all of your objectives.
“What is needed is a deal that is mutually beneficial – i.e. it is better for both sides than no deal at all. Ultimately, although these are tough negotiations – they are not a competition.
“The aim is to come up with something that is win-win, but I still think a no deal outcome is a very real possibility, particularly given that the UK Government was unwilling to extend the transition period after December 31, so leaving very little time for negotiation.
But he warned: “If the UK tries to achieve 100 percent of its objectives then there certainly will be no deal because the EU will walk away (and vice versa).
“What both sides profess to be looking for is a ‘reasonable’ landing zone that is better than “no deal” for both of them.
“Fishing is much more important to the EU than the UK. I think that the level playing field provisions (employment laws/environmental standards/state aid rules etc.) are areas where the EU will want to ensure that it isn’t undercut.
“There is a reasonable agreement to be reached if the UK Government is willing to agree to a necessary modicum of regulatory alignment with the EU.
“However, Brexiteers within Government will resist this – the challenge is getting there, and I stress that no deal remains a very real possibility.”
Brexit trade talks between the UK and EU are verging on collapse, with both sides refusing to back down on the key issues of fisheries and state aid.
Mr Barnier warned agreeing a deal before the deadline currently “seems unlikely”, as he suggested Britain is “wasting valuable time”.
He told a press conference following the latest round of talks in Brussels: “Too often this week it felt as if we were going backwards more than forwards.
“Given the short time left, what I said in London in July remains true. Today at this stage, an agreement between the UK and the European Union seems unlikely.
“I simply do not understand why we are wasting valuable time.”
UK counterpart Mr Frost still believes a trade deal with the EU is still possible, but warned “there has been little progress” after seven rounds of talks.
He said in a statement: “The EU is still insisting not only that we must accept continuity with EU state aid and fisheries policy, but also that this must be agreed before any further substantive work can be done in any other area of the negotiation, including on legal texts.
This makes it unnecessarily difficult to make progress.
“There are other significant areas which remain to be resolved and, even where there is a broad understanding between negotiators, there is a lot of detail to work through.
“Time is short for both sides.”
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