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EU threatens to pull out of Brexit talks if UK refuses to compromise


The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has warned David Frost that without a major negotiating shift by Downing Street within the next 48 hours he will pull out of the Brexit negotiations in London this weekend, pushing the talks into a fresh crisis.

In talks via videoconference on Tuesday, Barnier told his British counterpart that further negotiations would be pointless if the UK was not willing to compromise on the outstanding issues.

Should Barnier effectively walk out on the negotiations it would present the most dangerous moment yet for the troubled talks, with just 36 days to go before the end of the transition period.

While Brussels might hope such a move would put the UK prime minister under pressure to give Frost new negotiating instructions, it might also embolden those within the Tory party who believe no deal is the better outcome.

During a speech in the European parliament on Wednesday, the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said the EU was willing to be “creative” to get a deal with the UK but admitted an agreement was in the balance with “very little time ahead of us”.

Physical talks are on hold after a member of the EU negotiating team tested positive for coronavirus, but Barnier is expected to leave quarantine on Thursday evening. He is due to head to London on Friday for a last-ditch push for an agreement once he receives a negative coronavirus test.


‘Trust is good but law is better’: Ursula von der Leyen calls for clear Brexit rules – video

“These are decisive days for negotiations with the United Kingdom,” Von der Leyen told MEPs. “But, frankly, I cannot tell you today if in the end, there will be a deal.”

“We will do all in our power to reach an agreement. We’re ready to be creative,” she said. “But we are not ready to put into question the integrity of the single market, the main safeguard for European prosperity and wealth.”

Von der Leyen said legal texts on judicial and social security coordination, trade in goods and services and transport were almost finalised. “However, there’s still three issues that can make the difference between a deal and no deal,” she added.

She said fishing communities needed “predictability” from year to year over access to British waters, in a reference to Downing Street’s wish to hold annual negotiations over catches in UK seas, with the option of blocking access.

After 47 years and 30 days it was all over. As the clock struck 11pm on 31 January 2020, the UK was officially divorced from the EU and began trying to carve out a new global role as a sovereign nation. It was a union that got off to a tricky start and continued to be marked by the UK’s sometimes conflicted relationship with its neighbours.

Brefusal

The French president, Charles de Gaulle, vetoes Britain’s entry to EEC, accusing the UK of a “deep-seated hostility” towards the European project.

Brentry

With Sir Edward Heath having signed the accession treaty the previous year, the UK enters the EEC in an official ceremony complete with a torch-lit rally, dickie-bowed officials and a procession of political leaders, including former prime ministers Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home.

Referendum

The UK decides to stay in the common market after 67% voted “yes”. Margaret Thatcher, later to be leader of the Conservative party, campaigned to remain.

‘Give us our money back’

Margaret Thatcher negotiated what became known as the UK rebate with other EU members after the “iron lady” marched into the former French royal palace at Fontainebleau to demand “our own money back” claiming for every £2 contributed we get only £1 back” despite being one of the “three poorer” members of the community.

It was a move that sowed the seeds of Tory Euroscepticism that was to later cause the Brexit schism in the party. 

The Bruges speech

Thatcher served notice on the EU community in a defining moment in EU politics in which she questioned the expansionist plans of Jacques Delors, who had remarked that 80% of all decisions on economic and social policy would be made by the European Community within 10 years with a European government in “embryo”. That was a bridge too far for Thatcher.

The cold war ends

Collapse of Berlin wall and fall of communism in eastern Europe, which would later lead to expansion of EU.

‘No, no, no’

Divisions between the UK and the EU deepened with Thatcher telling the Commons in an infamous speech it was ‘no, no, no’ to what she saw as Delors’ continued power grab. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper ratchets up its opposition to Europe with a two-fingered “Up yours Delors” front page.

Black Wednesday

A collapse in the pound forced prime minister John Major and the then chancellor Norman Lamont to pull the UK out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.

The single market

On 1 January, customs checks and duties were removed across the bloc. Thatcher hailed the vision of “a single market without barriers – visible or invisible – giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people”.

Maastricht treaty

Tory rebels vote against the treaty that paved the way for the creation of the European Union. John Major won the vote the following day in a pyrrhic victory. 

Repairing the relationship

Tony Blair patches up the relationship. Signs up to social charter and workers’ rights.

Ukip

Nigel Farage elected an MEP and immediately goes on the offensive in Brussels. “Our interests are best served by not being a member of this club,” he said in his maiden speech. “The level playing field is about as level as the decks of the Titanic after it hit an iceberg.”

The euro

Chancellor Gordon Brown decides the UK will not join the euro.

EU enlarges to to include eight countries of the former eastern bloc including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

EU expands again, allowing Romania and Bulgaria into the club.

Migrant crisis

Anti-immigration hysteria seems to take hold with references to “cockroches” by Katie Hopkins in the Sun and tabloid headlines such as “How many more can we take?” and “Calais crisis: send in the dogs”.

David Cameron returns from Brussels with an EU reform package – but it isn’t enough to appease the Eurosceptic wing of his own party

Brexit referendum

The UK votes to leave the European Union, triggering David Cameron’s resignation and paving the way for Theresa May to become prime minister

Britain leaves the EU

After years of parliamentary impasse during Theresa May’s attempt to get a deal agreed, the UK leaves the EU.

On state aid, Von der Leyen said the EU was seeking a mechanism through which any breach of agreed principles controlling domestic subsidies could be swiftly remedied.

The EU is also seeking a mechanism to ensure there are consequences for either side within the trade deal if standards diverge over time.

“Significant difficulties remain on the question, how we can secure now, and over time, our common high standards on labour on social rights on the environment, the climate change and tax transparency,” Von der Leyen said. “We want to know what remedies are available in case one side will deviate in the future. Because trust is good, but law is better.”

There is concern among some member states that the UK is successfully pushing the commission into making concessions that will give British businesses an advantage in the marketplace over the decades to come.

Von der Leyen offered assurances that the commission’s negotiating team was being open-minded as to how to bridge the gaps between the two sides, but that they were holding firm on key principles. She called on leaders to back any compromise that emerges.

The talks were in their “decisive days”, she said, adding: “It is when we negotiate hard, and then stick to the compromise found that we move forward fast.”

EU leaders are due to meet on 10 December. The European parliament is due to hold a special session on 28 December to give its consent to a deal. However, any agreement would need to be finalised in the coming days to allow time for legal and parliamentary scrutiny and translation.



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