October 21, 2020

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Michel Barnier: ‘UK cannot refuse Brexit transition extension and slow down talks at the same time’

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has accused the UK of dragging its feet over post-Brexit negotiations, at the end of the second round of talks on the future relationship.

He described this week’s talks, which resumed this week by videoconference after a six-week standstill amid the coronavirus pandemic, as “disappointing” — adding that no progress had been made in key areas.

The UK had failed to engage or provide texts on crucial topics such as fishing, Barnier said. Yet “more than ever, the clock is ticking,” he added, ahead of crucial deadlines this year.

“We cannot accept to make selective progress, on a limited set of issues only. We need to make progress on all issues in parallel. We need to find solutions on the most difficult topics. The UK cannot refuse to extend the transition, and at the same time slow down discussions on important areas,” the chief negotiator said.

Despite the health and economic crisis, attention must now focus on the post-Brexit ties, which have to be sorted before the transition period ends on December 31. This keeps many arrangements intact from the UK’s time as an EU member state.

But these will abruptly change unless a new agreement is in place.

The UK government reiterated on Friday that it will not seek an extension of the transition period, even though energies on both sides have been completely sidetracked by the battle against COVID-19.

Transport minister Grant Shapps told the daily coronavirus briefing that the country had voted to leave the EU, that last December’s general election result showed people had voted for no more delays, and “that remains the case”.

But many voices are calling on the British to prolong the process, given the tight deadline. A decision on extension must be taken by the end of June, according to the terms of the divorce deal.

The United Kingdom left the European Union on January 31.

Key points from the news conference:

  • Michel Barnier tells the briefing that both sides must “apply realism” ahead of the deadlines in June and December, especially amid an economic shock
  • As well as future relations, the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement must be respected — especially on citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland, he says
  • Barnier notes the UK’s rejection of an extension to the transition period, saying this decision will have consequences. “Time is short”, he said, “once again the clock is ticking”
  • Both sides are on the “same wavelength” in wishing for “tangible progress”, but this is needed by the end of June.
  • There has only been partial progress this week, the UK is failing to act on commitments set out in the divorce deal
  • The UK cannot refuse to extend the transition period, while slowing down discussions in important areas
  • Talks this week have been “disappointing” in several areas: including the commitment to a level playing field (including over fishing), governance of future arrangements, and the role of the European Court of Justice
  • No progress had been made on future fishing rights, the UK has failed to provide a text proposal despite a commitment to use “best endeavours”
  • The next two rounds of talks are scheduled for May 11 and June 1

(Euronews)