As Brexit talks resume, Britain says: Our red lines remain unchanged

The United Kingdom left the EU but the sides are trying to clinch a trade deal.
The United Kingdom left the EU but the sides are trying to clinch a trade deal.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - As Brexit talks resumed in Brussels on Monday (Nov 16), Britain said its red lines remained unchanged but that it hoped to reach a trade deal with the European Union if the bloc chose to make progress.

The United Kingdom left the EU in January but the sides are trying to clinch a deal that would govern nearly US$1 trillion (S$1.35 trillion) in annual trade before transitional arrangements end on Dec 31.

"Our red lines haven't changed and we're preparing for whatever the outcome is," Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky.

"Of course our preference is to get a deal, and that is open to the Europeans if they choose to make the progress that's needed," he said.

Britain's chief negotiator, Mr David Frost, said on Sunday that there had been some progress over recent days and that the two sides had common draft treaty texts though significant elements were yet to be agreed.

"We may not succeed," he said. "We are working to get a deal, but the only one that's possible is one that is compatible with our sovereignty and takes back control of our laws, our trade, and our waters."

The talks will be in real trouble if there is no major breakthrough over the next week to 10 days, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Monday.

"We really are in the last week to 10 days of this. If there is not a major breakthrough over the next week to 10 days then I think we really are in trouble and the focus will shift to preparing for a no trade deal and all the disruption that that brings," Mr Coveney told Ireland's Newstalk radio station.

"I think the British government understands only too well what's required for a deal this week. The real question is whether the political appetite is there to do it. I think we will (get a deal), that's been my prediction for a while, but I won't be shocked if it all falls apart."

Three EU diplomatic sources said on Monday that Britain “has choices to make” if it wants a  deal, adding that Brexit negotiators had yet to come up with mutually acceptable solutions for the three most contentious issues.

“They haven’t quite reached where they had hoped to be,” one of the EU diplomats following Brexit said as talks between Frost and the bloc’s negotiator Michel Barnier resumed in Brussels.

A senior EU diplomat, also speaking under condition of anonymity, added: “Britain has choices to make.” 

Barnier said on Monday talks with Frost were continuing. “We remain determined, patient, respectful. We want our future cooperation to be open but fair in all areas,” he said on Twitter. 

A third EU diplomatic source said:  “The (issues of) level playing field, governance and fisheries are pending. As are serious decisions to be taken by the UK.” 

The sources also wondered if the upheaval in British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s inner circle – in which his top adviser and Brexit mastermind Dominic Cummings was ousted – was distracting London’s attention and making it harder for Frost to know exactly how far he could go towards a compromise to nail down a deal.

Johnson’s Downing Street office said there had been no change to its Brexit strategy after Cummings’ departure.