Hopes for a Brexit trade deal were rising last night after the EU softened its stance on tariffs.
Sources involved in the talks said Brussels had dropped demands for the power to impose instant ‘lightning tariffs’ if the UK diverges from the bloc’s rules.
In signs of a breakthrough, the two sides are now attempting to thrash out the details for an independent arbitration system for future complaints from either side. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier claimed the UK had made the first move, accepting ‘for the first time’ that Brussels should have the right to take action if the independent UK strays too far from the single market’s ‘level playing field’.
In a briefing to MEPs, Mr Barnier even suggested that a trade deal could be struck this week if the long-running row over fishing rights can be resolved. One EU source said: ‘There might now be a narrow path to an agreement visible if negotiators can clear the remaining hurdles in the next few days.’
EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen appears by video link as she celebrates 60 years of the OECD in Paris
Downing Street struck a more downbeat tone. One insider accused Mr Barnier of ‘playing games’ – and suggested No Deal remains the most likely outcome.
A government source said: ‘Talks remain difficult and we have not made significant progress in recent days, despite efforts by the UK side to bring energy and ideas to the process.’ They added that Boris Johnson would not sign up to anything that locked Britain into following EU laws ‘by the back door’.
They insisted there was ‘no truth’ to recent claims emanating from Brussels that the PM had backed down over fishing. ‘The inaccurate briefings from the EU side have made a difficult discussion even more challenging in the short period of time we have left,’ they said.
A government source insisted there was ‘no truth’ to recent claims emanating from Brussels that the Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured) had backed down over fishing
Former Brexit minister David Jones welcomed yesterday’s signs of a Brussels climbdown – but warned Mr Johnson not to offer any last-minute concessions that would limit Britain’s long-term freedom.
Mr Jones, a leading member of the European Research Group of Tory MPs, said: ‘It appears that EU demands have moderated and that the prospect of an acceptable deal has improved. That is good. However, we have made this progress only because the UK has shown it refuses to be bullied. We must continue to stand firm and be prepared to walk away if necessary.’
Trade talks were thrown into chaos earlier this month after Mr Barnier – under pressure from French premier Emmanuel Macron – tabled demands for the unilateral right to impose lightning tariffs on the UK.
Former Brexit minister David Jones (pictured) welcomed yesterday’s signs of a Brussels climbdown
Trade talks were thrown into chaos earlier this month after Mr Barnier (pictured) – under pressure from French premier Emmanuel Macron – tabled demands for the unilateral right to impose lightning tariffs on the UK
Boris should quit if there’s No Deal, says veteran Tory
A veteran Tory MP yesterday called on Boris Johnson to resign if he fails to secure a Brexit trade deal.
Sir Roger Gale said the Prime Minister’s position would become ‘untenable’ if the transition period ended without an agreement.
The MP, whose Kent constituency North Thanet is likely to face disruption in the event of No Deal, said: ‘If an acceptable deal is not agreed then the Prime Minister will have failed. I believe his position would then be untenable. Then an honourable man would make way for somebody else to give the country the leadership it needs.’
During last year’s election campaign, Mr Johnson told reporters: ‘Can I absolutely guarantee that we’ll get a deal? I think I can.’
Former defence minister Tobias Ellwood said Mr Johnson had ‘no mandate’ for a No Deal Brexit.
But Eurosceptic Tories yesterday stepped up calls to walk away rather than offer more concessions. Former minister John Redwood said: ‘No Deal would be a good outcome for the UK. It would mean that we take back control of our borders, our money, our laws and our fish.’
British sources said the proposal would have made Brussels ‘judge and jury’. Under the compromise plans now under discussion, each side will have the right to seek redress if the other is cutting standards in areas such as workers’ rights and the environment which would distort trade.
The two sides remain far apart on fishing. Brussels says it will only accept modest changes to its access to British waters – phased in over a decade. Further complicating matters is a suggestion from Mr Barnier that the EU should have the right to impose tariffs on British goods if EU trawlers have their access reduced further in the future. ‘We don’t want to end up like the Wild West,’ he said, warning: ‘There will be consequences for closing fishing waters.’
Amid complaints from MEPs that they have been cut out of the negotiation process, Mr Barnier told them talks could go on until the end of the month – which could leave EU leaders and the European Parliament unable to rubber-stamp a deal before the Brexit transition period ends on December 31. ‘That would mean a fairly short period of No Deal we would have to manage before ratification,’ he said.
France’s Europe minister called for talks to accelerate. ‘It will be very difficult to go beyond the end of the week,’ Clement Beaune said. ‘Not just because of ratification, but because we need two weeks to organise. Companies are getting anxious. We cannot get to 5pm on December 31 without companies knowing what will happen the next day.’
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen suggested there had been good progress and that both sides could be close to finalising an accord. ‘We are on the very last mile to go,’ she told an OECD event in Paris.
Ireland’s Taoiseach said both sides are aware of the ‘enormity and severity’ of the effects No Deal would have on their economies. ‘They have really sought to crack the “level playing field” issue along with fisheries and, crucially, this dispute mechanism that would underpin any level playing field framework,’ he said. However, Micheal Martin warned it remains difficult for the EU and UK to ‘square the circle’.
Minister vows: We’ll protect our fishermen
By Larisa Brown Defence and Security Editor
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace last night waded into the row over using Navy ships to stop EU trawlers fishing in UK waters.
He defended the plans after the Mail revealed the Navy was preparing to deploy four patrol boats if trade talks collapse without an agreement on fishing rights.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace last night waded into the row over using Navy ships to stop EU trawlers fishing in UK waters
Speaking on a visit to British troops in Estonia’s capital Tallinn, he said: ‘We will be there to make sure we protect our fishermen because they have the right and deserve to be protected… going about their lawful business.’ Mr Wallace reminded ‘our European friends’ that ‘whatever happens in negotiations, we must respect each other’s sovereign waters and indeed follow the rule of law and behave peacefully’.
He warned that the UK is ready for ‘whatever is the challenge on January 1’ after French fisherman vowed to blockade the Channel in the event of a No Deal Brexit.
Expats facing cash chaos as banks close UK accounts
Thousands of British expats living in the EU face financial chaos as banks prepare to close their accounts as a result of Brexit.
Customers with a UK bank account who live on the Continent may see their accounts shut within weeks as rules change from January 1.
Banks currently operate under a ‘passporting’ system, allowing them to trade freely across borders. But all this will change when the transition period ends.
Barclays has said accounts for expats in Italy, Belgium, Estonia and Slovakia will shut as in some countries ‘continuing to provide services may be viewed as a criminal act’.
Nigel Green, chief executive of financial advisory firm Devere Group, said most major UK banks are already writing to tell customers living in Europe that they will need a UK address to access services.
Yesterday MPs on the Treasury committee were told by David Oldfield, chief executive of commercial banking at Lloyds, that the bank has written to 13,000 customers. It warned them their accounts would be closed as the bank did ‘not have regulatory permissions’.
The Defence Secretary, a former member of the Scots Guards, told the Daily Telegraph that Britain will ‘always have assets along the shore line of the United Kingdom to protect it’.
A total of 14,000 troops have been placed on standby over the festive period to help with a range of scenarios, including No Deal.
Mr Wallace said: ‘When it comes to a Brexit deal – whatever that is – it is no secret that we would use our military to help support in logistics or anything else as required by other departments.
‘We only do things at the request of civilians. If they ask for help we will give it.’ He pledged that the Government will still be ready even if the UK fails to agree a deal with the EU before the Brexit transition period finishes at the end of this month. Insisting that ministers remained ‘incredibly prepared’ for such an outcome, he said ‘resilience’ was ‘second nature’ for the military.
Mr Wallace, who ordered Ministry of Defence officials and military personnel to prepare for worst-case scenarios months ago, said he was ‘confident we will be able to deal with all of them’.
Britain’s control of its waters after the transition period ends is one of the main sticking points that remain between the UK and the EU. A row erupted over the weekend after it emerged that the UK was preparing to deploy warships in the Channel.
A 34-page ‘official sensitive’ document stated: ‘EU and UK fishers could clash over the lost access to historic fishing grounds, and there could be a significant uplift in illegal fishing activities.’ Four Royal Navy vessels would be deployed ‘when it gets feisty’, government sources said.
French fishermen claimed they would retaliate by blockading Dover and Calais.
Dimitri Rogoff, of Normandy’s regional fisheries committee, said: ‘If we are deprived of our fishing grounds, we will not watch the British supply the French market. There will therefore be blockages to ferries – since this mainly happens by ferries. On that, we are quite clear and determined.’