EU lead­ers told to step up preps for no-deal Brexit


THE lead­ers of France and Bel­gium urged the Euro­pean Union ( EU) to step up prepa­ra­tions for a no- deal Brexit at the end of the year in case ne­go­ti­a­tions with the UK fail to yield a last- minute break­through.

At a vir­tual sum­mit of EU lead­ers Thurs­day, French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron and Bel­gian Prime Min­is­ter Alexan­der De Croo both called on their col­leagues to make con­tin­gency plans in case talks to sign a trade and se­cu­rity agree­ment fail, ac­cord­ing to two peo­ple with knowl­edge of the dis­cus­sion.

De Croo pointed out that the ne­go­ti­a­tions have al­ready ran long past their ini­tial dead­line and said the bloc can’t go on hop­ing that the dis­agree­ments with Britain will re­solve them­selves, the peo­ple said.

The warn­ing came as the ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the UK and EU were roiled by the dis­clo­sure that a mem­ber of the EU team had tested pos­i­tive for coron­avirus. Face-to-face ne­go­ti­a­tions have been now sus­pended, and Michel Barnier, the bloc’s chief ne­go­tia­tor, is to go into quar­an­tine, adding an ad­di­tional com­pli­ca­tion to the dis­cus­sions as time to reach a deal runs out.

If one isn’ t reached by year-end, busi­nesses and con­sumers will face dis­rup­tion and cost as tar­iffs and quo­tas re­turn. In re­cent days, though, of­fi­cials on both sides had pri­vately voiced cau­tious op­ti­mism that a deal could be con­cluded as soon as next week, sug­gest­ing the com­ments by the two lead­ers may be an at­tempt to pres­sure the UK gov­ern­ment to com­pro­mise.

Stick­ing points

AF­TER eight months of ne­go­ti­a­tions, the two sides still have work to do to get past long stand­ing stick­ing points— ac­cess to UK fish­ing wa­ters, a level play­ing field for busi­ness, and how any agree­ment is en­forced— and the time re­quired for any deal to be rat­i­fied is run­ning short. The post- Brexit tran­si­tion pe­riod ex­pires De­cem­ber 31.

Mem­bers of the Bri­tish ne­go­ti­at­ing team, who haven’t gone into quar­an­tine, will re­turn to Lon­don shortly, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the talks. A gov­ern­ment spokesman said dis­cus­sions with the EU will con­tinue re­motely un­til it is judged safe to re­sume them in per­son.

This isn’t the first time the coron­avirus has dis­rupted the ne­go­ti­a­tions. In March, Barnier, Frost and sev­eral mem­bers of their teams were forced into iso­la­tion af­ter ei­ther test­ing pos­i­tive for, or show­ing symp­toms of, Covid. The two sides were also forced to sus­pend face- to- face dis­cus­sions as Europe went into a con­ti­nent- wide lock­down.

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