Brexit talks end early as EU, Britain say big differences remain

Discussions will still resume in London as planned next week. PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS (BLOOMBERG) - Negotiations between Britain and the European Union over their future relationship broke up a day early on Thursday (July 2) amid warnings that big differences still exist between the two sides.

Discussions will still resume in London as planned next week, according to statements from both sides, with officials saying the early finish isn't a sign the talks have collapsed. This week's round had been scheduled to end with a meeting between the chief negotiators, David Frost and Michel Barnier, on Friday.

"The negotiations have been comprehensive and useful," Britain said in a statement. "But they have also underlined the significant differences that still remain between us on a number of important issues."

Those divisions include whether Britain should remain bound by European laws after Brexit, how to control the right to fish in British waters, and what role the European Court of Justice should play in policing any agreement.

Barnier said in a statement that while "serious divergences remain" he believes "an agreement is possible and in everyone's interest."

The EU expects "its positions to be better understood and respected in order to reach an agreement," he said. "We need an equivalent engagement by the UK"

RED LINES

Barnier highlighted Britain's "red lines" on the ECJ, fishing and the need to break away from EU law. He said the EU would still insist on a level playing field to ensure fair competition between the two sides, a "sustainable" fishing solution, as well as an effective dispute-resolution mechanism.

This week's talks were the first face-to-face meetings in three months and the first in an informal format that involves only a small group of senior negotiators. The teams had been forced to resort to video-conferences because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at a press conference in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was keen to see a deal.

"As before, from the German side we continue to have an interest in a contractual result," she said. "But we must also prepare for the other case."

The two sides are trying to thrash out a trade deal before Britain's final split with the bloc at the year-end. Without an accord, Britain and the EU will default to trading on terms set by the World Trade Organisation, meaning the return of tariffs and quotas.

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