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Barnier shows ‘ambitious’ draft UK deal to EU members

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European Commission’s Head of Task Force for Relations with Britain Michel Barnier gives a press conference as he reports on the first round of EU-Britain negociations at the EU headquarters in Brussels on March 5, 2020. (Photo by François WALSCHAERTS / AFP)

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said Friday that he had sent an “ambitious” draft of what could be a new post-Brexit trade deal with Britain to EU capitals.

Next week’s face-to-face round of EU-UK negotiations in London has been cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, but both sides are keen to press on.

There is also, for some officials, an unspoken race to publish a comprehensive draft proposal as both sides seek to gain the initiative in a tricky months-long negotiation.

“We’ve sent a draft agreement on a new partnership to EP & Council for discussion,” Barnier tweeted, referring to the European Parliament and the member states.

“It shows an ambitious & comprehensive future relationship is possible. We must give ourselves every chance of success,” he said.

“We will publish the text after our exchanges & look forward to working with UK.”

Some in Brussels are pushing for Barnier to put out Europe’s vision of a close working relationship with Britain under a deal to guarantee a “level playing field” for businesses.

But some member states oppose this, arguing that Brussels should wait to see Britain’s proposal for a simple trade deal with no promise of alignment with EU rules.

“Publishing the draft is not usual practice at this stage. It will only show that the EU and UK are on different tracks,” one European diplomat told AFP.

“Barnier thinks it will show advantage but it doesn’t. It will show that what we have is fundamentally different than what they have. If we do, doing so before the UK is especially not wise.”

‘Ill-advised’
Britain and the EU want to conclude some kind of new trading arrangement by the end of the year when a post-Brexit transition ends and European trade rules no longer apply.

Many business on both sides of the Channel are keen for a close relationship to continue, with matching rules, to minimise disruption to supply chains.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists Brexit means future ties with be those between “sovereign equals”, with Britain prepared to pay a price for the right to set its own laws.

In Brussels, officials are far from confident that a deal can be done in time.

“Each side wants to show their domestic audience how ambitious they are to get the deal done by the end of the year,” the diplomat said.

“We are afraid it will also create a false sense of hopes for companies, which is ill-advised,” he added while conceding that his government would support the EU’s decision.


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