Last-ditch effort to save Brexit talks from failure

BRUSSELS: British and EU negotiators embarked on probably their final two-day scramble to secure a post-Brexit trade deal on Sunday, after failing for eight months to reach agreement.
David Frost arrived in Brussels for more talks with EU counterpart Michel Barnier, ending a two-day pause after a fruitless week of late-night wrangling in London.
“We’re working very hard to try to get a deal. We’ll see what happens in the negotiations today,” Frost told reporters as he arrived at the Gare de Midi train station in Brussels.
A European official said the negotiators would meet later in the day at the EU’s Berlaymont headquarters in Brussels and that talks could go on late.
Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will reportedly lobby European leaders, after a call with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday ended with the sides still facing “significant differences” on the key issues.
The pair’s next call will be on Monday evening and then the 27 EU leaders will gather in Brussels on Thursday for a two-day summit planned to tackle their own budget dispute, but which will now once again be clouded by Brexit worries.
Johnson and von der Leyen issued a downbeat joint statement after their call, with divisions still wide over fishing rights, fair trade rules and an enforcement mechanism to govern any deal.
“Whilst recognising the seriousness of these differences, we agreed that a further effort should be undertaken… to assess whether they can be resolved,” they said.
Britain formally left the EU in January, nearly four years after a referendum on membership that split the nation down the middle and two months after Johnson won an election touting what he claimed was an “oven ready” Brexit deal.
The UK is bound to the EU’s tariff-free single market until a post-Brexit transition period expires the end of the year — an immovable deadline by which time the two sides must try to agree on new terms of their future relationship.
“It’s in a very difficult position, there’s no point denying that,” British Environment Minister George Eustice told Sky News.
“We’re going continue to work on these negotiations, until there’s no point in doing so any further,” he said.
Without a deal, the bulk of cross-Channel trade will revert to World Trade Organization terms, a return to tariffs and quotas after almost five decades of close economic and political integration.
Johnson has insisted Britain will “prosper mightily” whatever the outcome of the talks, but he will face severe political and economic fallout if he cannot seal a deal.
“If there is no deal now, I see huge international implications… because we would be in an economic war with Europe that would cost us very dearly,” former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown told Sky News.
European capitals have remained remarkably united behind Barnier through the fraught Brexit process, but some internal fractures have now begun to surface.
On Friday, France threatened to veto any deal that falls short of their demands on ensuring fair trade and access to UK fishing waters, where they have demanded a durable agreement, whereas Britain wants frequent renegotiations.
“We know that 100 per cent access to fishing waters in the UK maritime zone is finished,” European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune told le Journal du Dimanche.
“But we need lasting access. The British can’t have total access to our EU single market and exclude fish.” — AFP