UPDATED: EU’s Barnier says trade deal with UK “within reach”

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The European Union’s Brexit negotiator said on Wednesday that a new trade deal with Britain was “within reach” if both sides work hard to overcome the sticking points in the coming days.

“An agreement is within reach if both sides are willing to work constructively, compromise and working to make progress on the basis of legal texts and if we are able in the coming days to resolve the sticking points,” Michel Barnier said.

“Time is of essence… Along with our British counterparts, we must find solutions to the most difficult areas.” 

At the same time, European Council President Charles Michel told the European Parliament  that Britain has sovereign choices to make on Brexit and they will determine its future access to the EU’s internal market, the chairman of the bloc’s leaders said on Wednesday, stressing it was now up to London to break an impasse in trade negotiations.

A frustrated European Union and piqued Britain both exhorted each other on Tuesday to compromise to avoid a fast-approaching disruptive finale to the five-year Brexit drama that would add to economic pain from the coronavirus crisis.

“Time is very short and we stand ready to negotiate 24/7, on all subjects, on legal texts. The UK has a bit of a decision to make and it’s their free and sovereign choice,” Michel told the European Parliament.

“Their sovereign answer will determine the level of access to our internal market, this is just common sense.”

Michel said the 27 EU members were equally ready for an abrupt split in trading ties at the end of the year without a new partnership agreement to avoid tariffs or quotas from 2021.

“Brexit means Brexit, as (former British prime minister) Theresa May used to say. But Brexit also means making choices about our future relationship,” said Michel, ennumerating the three sticking points in the trade negotiations: fishing rights, the settlement of disputes and economic fair play.

“We don’t need words, we need guarantees,” he said of the so-called level playing field guarantees for fair competition.

“Do our British friends want to regulate state aid and uphold high medical standards? If so, why not commit to them.”

Britain must implement the Withdrawal Agreement on its exit from the European Union, regardless of the outcome of ongoing trade talks between the two sides, a senior European Commissioner said on Wednesday.

“Deal or no deal, the Withdrawal Agreement must be respected,” European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic told the European Parliament.

Sefcovic said the EU is committed to reaching a deal on the trade agreement and other aspects of their future relationship, but that the two sides remain “far apart” on the issues of fisheries and the so-called level playing field of fair competition.

“Our objective is still to reach an agreement that will pave the way for a new fruitful relationship between the EU and UK. We will continue to work for such an agreement, but not at any price,” he said. 

Once you're here...