Brexit news: Talks paused over ‘significant divergences’ with plans to discuss ‘state of play’ tomorrow

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier walks to a conference centre in central London on Thursday for trade talks

Brexit talks have been paused due to “significant divergences” that still remain, negotiators have said, with plans for the UK and EU to “discuss the state of play tomorrow afternoon”. 

Both Michel Barnier and David Frost shared statements signalling an inability for the two nations to agree on “level playing field, governance and fisheries” was the cause of the delay. 

It comes after Downing Street admitted earlier that trade talks were at a “very difficult point”, with a spokesman for Boris Johnson telling reporters on Friday: “Time is in very short supply and we are at a very difficult point in the talks”. This was despite an EU official going on record earlier in the day to say a trade deal was “imminent” and could be expected this weekend.

Meanwhile, as wary France threatened to veto a bad deal, European Council president Charles Michel said the UK had “choices to make” over the final stalling points, while British ministers again insisted the EU must recognise UK’s sovereignty. 

And with just days left to secure a deal and tensions already high in Brussels, Mr Johnson’s government announced it would bring two bills in possible violation of the Brexit withdrawal agreement before the Commons next week, which it claimed was necessary to prevent a border in the Irish Sea. 

Mr Barnier reportedly told EU envoys such a breach of trust would plunge the talks into irreparable “crisis”.

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Good morning, and welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of Brexit, as trade talks go down to the wire.

Andy Gregory4 December 2020 08:04

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UK presses ahead with breaking international law at crucial moment

With less than four weeks to go until a no-deal, Jacob Rees-Mogg yesterday confirmed that ministers will reinsert controversial clauses removed by the House of Lords from their Internal Market Bill, which will overwrite the Brexit deal signed by Boris Johnson earlier this year.

The House of Commons leader also announced the introduction of a new Taxation (Post Transition) Bill, which is expected to include other powers to overwrite parts of the withdrawal agreement.

Ministers have admitted that their plans break international law, and the EU has said such a move would be “curtains” for talks. 

Our policy correspondent Jon Stone has the full report here:

Andy Gregory4 December 2020 08:12

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Trade talks ‘at the very end’

Ireland’s foreign minister – who has been in Paris this week, where politicians are uneasy at the prospect of possible last-minute concessions on fishing rights – has suggested talks are “at the very end”.

Simon Coveney said the focus will very soon turn to preparing for a no-deal scenario unless an agreement is reached.

He told RTE that “nothing is impossible, but all the effort and focus is on trying to close out this negotiation in the next few days”.

It came as top Barnier advisor Stefaan de Rynck told a Brussels seminar that the outcome remained “uncertain”, likening negotiations to a marathon, with the two sides “probably past kilometre 40” (leaving just over two bitter km left).

Andy Gregory4 December 2020 08:21

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UK accused of ‘theatrics’ after claims deal ‘receding’

Amid reports that talks went “backwards” yesterday, a senior UK government source was widely quoted as saying: “At the 11th hour, the EU is bringing new elements into the negotiation.

“A breakthrough is still possible in the next few days but that prospect is receding.”

But the BBC reported EU sources as dismissing this as last-minute theatrics, insisting that the key issues remain unchanged.

However, with some EU member states having voiced their growing concern of a bad deal during an EU27 discussion with Mr Barnier on Thursday morning, it is possible the bloc’s negotiating team has somewhat hardened its stance.

Andy Gregory4 December 2020 08:29

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France will veto a bad deal, minister warns

With France said to be leading the charge of EU nations urging Michel Barnier not to feel pressured into accepting a bad deal as the clock runs down, the country’s European Affairs minister has warned France will veto a bad deal.

“I want to tell our fishermen, our producers, the citizens who are listening that we will not acept a deal with bad terms,” Clement Beaune told Europe 1 radio. 

“If a good agreement cannot be reached, we will oppose it. Each country has a veto right, so it is possible … We will do our own evaluation of this draft deal, if there is one.”

Andy Gregory4 December 2020 08:36

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What are the remaining issues blocking a Brexit deal?

Talks have remaining stalled on three key areas for months.

Our policy correspondent Jon Stone has this explainer on the issues threatening to prevent a deal and, if OBR forecasts are correct, quickly wipe off 2 per cent of UK GDP.

Andy Gregory4 December 2020 08:45

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Showdown between Johnson and Macron?

Here’s my colleague Adam Forrest’s round-up of this morning’s Brexit news, deliverable to your inbox in his daily Inside Politics newsletter:

One UK government official said the prospect of a breakthrough is “receding”, claiming Brussels had hardened its stance on level-playing issues. Reports suggest the talks have also stalled on fishing rights.

No 10 has suggested the French president has insisted on firm red lines – with Emmanuel Macron’s officials said to be “agitating around EU capitals”. Downing Street sources told The Telegraph they remain unsure whether Macron might “torpedo” any deal at the last moment.

What happens next? Boris Johnson is expected to call European Commission boss Ursula von der Leyen later today, while this weekend has been billed as a “showdown” between Johnson and Macron.

Andy Gregory4 December 2020 08:53

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Brexit talks in ‘difficult phase’, business secretary says

Alok Sharma has said Brexit talks are in a “difficult” phase with “a number of tricky issues” still outstanding.

“We are committed to reaching an agreement with the EU on this particular discussion that we are having,” the business secretary told BBC Breakfast.

“But, of course, time is short and we are in a difficult phase. There’s no denying that. There are a number of tricky issues that still have to be resolved.

“The fundamental point – I want to make this really very, very clear to your viewers – is that we have said all along, right from the start of these negotiations, and I’ve come on your programme, other programmes, as have other ministers over the past months, and said that we want the EU to recognise that the UK is a sovereign and independent nation.

“It is on the basis of that that a deal will be done.

“It is tricky, but we are working hard. David Frost and his team are working incredibly hard on this, in good faith, so let’s see where we get to.”

Andy Gregory4 December 2020 09:02

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Rishi Sunak imposes austerity on railway infrastructure investment with £1bn cuts

In other news, the government has quietly cut £1bn from the rail infrastructure investment budget, effectively cancelling improvement schemes across the country.

The austerity comes after Rishi Sunak promised “record” infrastructure investment, and casts doubt on Tory claims to be “levelling up”.

The rail industry warned that the austerity meant it was now “unclear what schemes will be going ahead and what will not be”.

Our policy correspondent Jon Stone has the details:

Andy Gregory4 December 2020 09:12

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‘We have to expect damages on both sides,’ French MP says

“I think we have to expect damages on both sides” of the Channel, French MP Bruno Bonell has said, as he warned a no-deal outcome would be the wrong route for both the UK and EU.

“On one side, we will have the UK trying to struggle in a world where continents now are the right size to compete against the US economy or the Chinese economy,” he told Sky News.

“And the EU will probably be damaged by missing the quality and services and ability of the UK to really develop good commerce and business. So unfortunately, we’ve reached this point that I’ve been warning for for the last two years, [where] we have to find a deal and a Brexit with a no-deal … is probably not the right solution for anybody in Europe, including the UK.”

Andy Gregory4 December 2020 09:22

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