Michel Barnier on a tight leash in high-stakes Brexit endgame – POLITICO

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EU countries are getting so nervous about concessions in the final phase of the Brexit negotiations they’ve reminded the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier not to cross the bloc’s red lines just to clinch a deal with the U.K.

That message was conveyed to Barnier, both by EU ambassadors on Wednesday and by EU sherpas on Thursday, according to several officials present at those meetings. Last Friday, fisheries ministers also reminded Barnier of his negotiating mandate and to maintain the current access to U.K. waters.

“We are millimeters from the bottom line of the mandate. For some issues, we’re even on the red line, and we don’t want to cross it,” said one EU diplomat.

Although the diplomat stressed confidence in Barnier, they added that a veto from EU countries could not be ruled out if he crosses any red lines. “If the mandate is not adhered to, they have every right to do so,” the diplomat said.

France is the most vocal in its worries about the final concessions, although others such as Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark are equally worried.

“We’re not pushing for a no deal … but we’re pushing for reaching an ambitious agreement,” a French government official said. “We push the negotiator to use the last days or even the last hours that we have left [to negotiate an agreement].”

EU countries also asked Barnier to start sharing parts of the texts informally to reassure EU capitals about the concessions being made.

One EU official said it made sense that EU capitals were becoming increasingly nervous, given how high the stakes are and how much the Commission is holding its cards to its chest during the endgame.

“This is not some small, faraway country. It’s is one of the most important free-trade deals the EU will close for a long time to come,” the official said. “If we give in too much on level playing field now, it will hurt us for decades to come. So it’s a good thing that the Commission is aware just how much depends on its judgment call [on] which compromise is good enough.”

Are we nearly there yet?

While both sides have made compromises, “significant divergences” remain.

According to three EU officials, London has moved “significantly” on the issue of level playing field to guarantee British business can’t undercut the bloc, which is a must for the EU to green light any future deal. British negotiators, however, would not confirm this.

The EU wants to agree with the U.K. on non-regression clauses so as to not to water down shared rules they currently have. “There is now a minimal number of guarantees of what we can define as regression,” an EU diplomat said. “Both sides have had to make compromises on this. But there’s still a lot of discussion on potential retaliation in case the U.K. decides to abandon these principles. As London already made serious concessions, it now remains to be seen how much further they can go.”

Another EU official said that while there’s much more agreement on level playing field than on fish, “we’re not there yet” and “the devil is in the details.”

On state aid, it’s still not clear whether the EU will accept that the U.K. will not have an “ex-ante” state aid regulator that intervenes in subsidies before they are agreed upon.

An “ex-post” system would mean that such subsidies can only be disputed after they have been handed out, which threatens to hurt EU businesses while they wait for a verdict. “It’s quite clear that the whole complex of ex-ante regulation, ex-post regulation, principles and domestic enforcement, especially in the U.K., are not configured in a way we can agree to,” the first EU diplomat said.

Given those divergences, officials remain reluctant to say when an agreement will be feasible. There is also no indication yet about a call between U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, even though such a call would “normally be the final chapter of this story,” said one of the officials.

Elisa Braun contributed reporting.

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Brexit: Irish PM ‘hopeful’ of deal this week as talks reach ‘endgame’ | Politics News

Ireland’s prime minister has said he is “hopeful” a Brexit free-trade deal can be made this week, after leaders warned time is “running out”. 

Speaking to the Irish Times, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said British and EU negotiators have now reached an “endgame”.

“It will require political will to conclude the deal and there are options to conclude the deal, and so on balance, I would be hopeful that it can be done at the end of this week,” he said.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said negotiations have reached ‘endgame’

However, Mr Martin had expressed similar hopefulness of an imminent agreement last week.

Boris Johnson and Mr Martin spoke on the phone on Friday to discuss progress in the negotiations, with the UK prime minister “underlining his commitment to reaching a deal that respects the sovereignty of the UK”.

The leaders had also spoken of a need to prioritise the Good Friday Agreement and avoiding a hard border with Ireland, a Number 10 spokesperson said.

There have been concerns from other quarters that trade deal talks could stretch into next week, with compromises still to be made on state aid, enforcement and fishing.

The Brexit transition period ends on 31 December after the UK formally left the EU in January.

Both sides had agreed a deal should be struck by mid-October to give enough time for the agreements to be implemented.

Still, talks have continued in stalemate and an EU source said on Monday that “massive divergences” remain.

Michel Barnier says there are 'reasons for determination'
Michel Barnier says there are ‘reasons for determination’

Discussions stretched late into the night on Sunday, with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier telling reporters “there are reasons for determination”.

In a warning to negotiators, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said “we are running out of time here”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed his remarks, saying some EU member states were losing patience.

“We hope that the negotiations will have a good end,” she said. “We don’t need a deal at any price and we have made this clear… A deal is in everyone’s interest.”

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Raab: Brexit talks into ‘last week or so’

A Downing Street spokesperson said there has been some progress but “there still remains divergence on issues [such as] fisheries and the level playing field”.

“We want to try and reach a free trade agreement as soon as possible but we’ve been clear we won’t change our negotiating position,” they added.

Securing a deal would safeguard trade, as well as reinforcing peace in Northern Ireland – although there is expected to be disruption at the busiest EU-UK border points.

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