Brexit: Michel Barnier says 'we will see' as he leaves UK
The time frame was set by Boris Johnson in a dramatic hour-long phone call with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyan on Saturday evening. The two failed to break the deadlock on EU demands over access to British fishing waters and the UK accepting punitive level playing field measures but decided to ask their chief negotiators to have “one last throw of the dice.” It means that Lord Frost will meet Michel Barnier on Sunday morning and talks will conclude on Monday with another phone call between the Prime Minister and Ms von der Leyan.
A source close to the British negotiating team said: “Basically we are not budging. They (the EU) will have to budge. They need to change their mandate.
“If that does not happen by the time the call happens on Monday it will be finished.”
It means that after four and a half years of talks the negotiations are going into their final hours.
And last night, Tory MPs lined up to tell the Prime Minister not to lose his nerve.
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There had been hope that a deal would be reached this week, but the talks this week took a difficult turn after the EU tabled unprecedented and last minute demands which were incompatible with our commitment to becoming a sovereign nation.
The changes were pushed by French President Emmanuel Macron and were completely unacceptable for Britain.
Mr Johnson, who has privately described himself as “the Brexit hardliner in the cabinet, was unwilling to countenance the demands which would have given the EU a decade to plunder British fishing waters and force Britain to accept state aid rules much tougher than the ones the EU members have to endure.
A source close to the talks said that the EU had responded to British compromises, “regrettably, with demands that in no way could be said to recognise that the UK is an independent country, and which would have effectively tied the UK’s regulations to the EU’s in perpetuity.”
According to the source it became clear that the process had gone as far as it could at Chief Negotiator level without political intervention.
“The EU’s unrealistic mandate had reached its limits.”
The Prime Minister spoke to Ms von der Leyen yesterday evening for an hour to try and unlock the process, and agreed that a small team of UK negotiators would travel to Brussels this morning.
They will work intensively to see if they can bridge the final gaps, notably on issues around the so-called level playing field.
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The source said that “there is barely any time left, and there is no doubt that this process may not end in agreement. The process has not been helped by the fact that the EU only allowed the negotiations to focus on legal texts a month ago, as the talks should have been reaching their end.”
The source close to the negotiations said: “This is the final throw of the dice. There is a fair deal to be done that works for both sides but this will only happen if the EU is willing to respect the fundamental principles of sovereignty and control.”
In a joint statement from Mr Johnson and the Commission President admitted “significant differences” remain between them.
They added: “Both sides underlined that no agreement is feasible if these issues are not resolved.”
But the leaders continued: “Whilst recognising the seriousness of these differences, we agreed that a further effort should be undertaken by our negotiating teams to assess whether they can be resolved.”
In his weekly column for the Sunday Express, Leader of the House Jacob Rees Mogg described the Prime Minister as “a statesman” and questioned whether the EU could meet the challenge.
Writing for the Sunday Express, former Brexit Secretary David Davis called on the Prime Minister to hold his nerve saying that the EU have much more to lose from a no deal.
He said: “The EU sells the UK far more goods than we sell them. This means that if tariffs are imposed on imports such as cars, effectively a tax, EU states will be paying us a lot more money in tariffs than we will have to pay them – an equation that is billions of pounds a year in our favour.
“At this crucial time, the Prime Minister must stand firm and hold his nerve.”
He also blasted the EU for its attitude to the talks over the last four and a half years.
“The EU have, from the outset, failed to negotiate in good faith,” he said. “I experienced this first hand as Brexit Secretary.”
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said: “The worst possible thing for the Prime Minister to do now would be to compromise in a hurry.
“He is under no more pressure to do a deal than the EU leadership and he must stick to his guns.”
The new intake of MPs who helped sweep the former Labour red wall seats on a wave of “get Brexit done” in December last year also are concerned any surrender to the EU would have been catastrophic for them.
Alexander Stafford, first Tory MP ever for Rother Valley, said: “A recent poll commissioned by the Centre for Brexit Policy and conducted by Savanta ComRes found that, by an overwhelming margin, people living in the seats that switched from Labour to the Conservatives, will shy away from the Conservative Party unless the Government deliver a deal with the EU that safeguards UK sovereignty.”
Meanwhile, veteran North West Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen told the Prime Minister: “It’s hold your nerve time.”
He warned: “If the Prime Minister backs down on Brexit his support in the Conservative Party would be finished.”
But another veteran Brexit campaigner Peter Bone, the MP for Wellingborough said he always had complete faith in Mr Johnson.
He said: “I have always been sure that if the EU offered a good deal he will take it, if they they offer a bad deal he would walk away.”
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