EU remains open to post-Brexit trade talks

The European Union has thrown the ball back in Britain’s court, saying it’s up to London to make the next move in negotiations after Prime Minister Boris Johnson threatened the end of post-Brexit trade talks.

“I confirmed that the EU remains available to intensify talks in London this week, on all subjects, and based on legal texts,” the European Union’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said on Monday.

“We now wait for the UK’s reaction,” he said following a phone call with British counterpart David Frost.

The remarks come as both sides blame each other for the scant progress made in the high-stakes negotiations.

Last week EU leaders called for Britain to “make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible,” in order that a trade deal is in place by January 1.

Swiftly rejecting that approach, Johnson replied on Friday that negotiations should not continue unless the EU showed a fundamental shift in approach.

While not quite completely calling off the talks, he said Britain would be prepared for an “Australia-style” deal.

Australia has no bespoke deal with the EU and trades on basic World Trade Organization terms, meaning both must contend with tariffs, quotas and other hurdles.

After leaving the EU at the end of January, Britain entered a transition period until year’s end allowing it to keep trading with EU countries on the same terms as before.

Over the past few months, multiple rounds of negotiations have shown little progress on central issues, namely a level playing field to make competition fair, fisheries and governance.

While a new round of negotiations was initially scheduled this week in London, the two parties opted for a phone call on Monday instead.

An EU diplomat said last week the bloc was in “interpretation mode” as to the fate of talks.

In parallel, a lower-level joint committee that oversees the implementation of the withdrawal agreement also met on Monday.

But the meeting of the joint committee provides no clarity as to the state of negotiations, as they merely oversee the technical implementations of the withdrawal agreement.

“Today’s meeting demonstrated the political will to move at pace on both sides,” European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said after the technical talks.

“This is necessary as, despite some progress, much work remains to be done by the UK.”

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