Bloomberg | 20 October 2020
UK, EU negotiators to hold call to revive Brexit talks
By Ian Wishart and Joe Mayes
The U.K. and European Union’s chief negotiators will hold talks for the second time in two days as they try to restart the Brexit discussions that Boris Johnson suspended last week.
David Frost will hold talks with Michel Barnier, his EU counterpart, at 2 p.m. London time on Tuesday, according to a Downing Street spokesman.
The call comes after the U.K. rebuffed the EU’s push to revive the deadlocked trade talks, holding out for more concessions from the bloc. On Monday, Barnier said he would be willing to intensify the discussions and begin work on the legal text of the accord following a conversation with Frost.
While that went some way to meeting two of the U.K.’s key demands, it wasn’t enough for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reopen the talks he suspended Friday, saying that a trade deal was unlikely. Without one, consumers and businesses will face the cost and disruption of tariffs and quotas in just 10 weeks’ time.
“The EU still needs to make a fundamental change in approach to the talks, and make clear it has done so,” Frost said in a tweet.
David Frost GETTY sub
Photographer: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images
Johnson’s office still described Monday’s discussion as “constructive” — a view echoed by officials in Brussels, who said they have a better understanding of what they have to do to make it look like the U.K. has won something.
EU officials are paying particular attention to Frost’s comment that the bloc “needs to make clear” it has moved. That could mean an EU leader, or senior official, giving a public statement to make it look like the bloc is conceding, drafting new texts, or emphasizing that the two sides are sovereign equals, they said.
The British government argues that the EU has run down the clock and hasn’t negotiated in good faith by refusing to start drafting a legal text in the seven months since negotiations began. It has also criticized the bloc for being reluctant to hold intensive discussions. The EU has said it is waiting for the U.K. to make serious offers to compromise.
“Movement needs to come from the EU side as well as the U.K.,” James Slack, a Downing Street spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday. The U.K. needs a “clear assurance from the EU that it has made a fundamental change in the talks, and this is going to be a genuine negotiation rather than one side making all the moves.”
Even if the talks do resume, there are still big disagreements that the two sides will need to overcome before striking an agreement. The U.K. wants the EU to back down on its demands for the same continued access to British fishing waters, but the EU won’t do that at least until the other side offers concessions on the so-called level competitive playing field for business.