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Brexit: EU, UK leaders feel out trade deal positions over ‘last supper’

Eyes are turning to Brussels where EU and UK leaders will attempt to reinvigorate stalled post-Brexit trade talks. Germany's Merkel said the EU would be ready for a no-deal scenario if the bloc's conditions are not met.

By: Deutsche Welle | Updated: December 9, 2020 9:24:10 pm
Supporters of European Union demonstrate against Brexit near Britain's Parliament in London, Wednesday Dec. 9, 2020. Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the European Union's Commission president Ursula von der Leyen will meet later for a dinner that could pave the way to a Brexit trade deal, or tip the two sides toward a chaotic economic rupture at the end of December. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday in Brussels at a dinner where each side will aim to determine the other’s willingness to continue negotiations for a post-Brexit trade deal that could avoid a chaotic breakup in three weeks.

With growing fears over a turbulent no-deal finale to the five-year Brexit process, when the UK’s Brexit transition period finally end on December 31, the dinner meeting has been touted as a way to move forward with stalled trade talks.

Ahead of the meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her skepticism over the dinner’s possible results. “There is still the chance of an agreement,” she said during a speech to German lawmakers. She also stressed that the EU would not compromise on its core principles. “One thing is clear: the integrity of the [EU’s] internal market must be preserved.”

Merkel told the German parliament that the bloc would “take a path without an agreement if there are conditions from the British side that we can’t accept.”

Also Read | UK PM Johnson warns EU over Brexit trade talks: back down or it’s no-deal

Before the meeting, Johnson said a post-Brexit deal was still possible. “A good deal is still there to be done. I look forward to discussing it with Commissioner von der Leyen tonight,” he told Parliament.

He also said, however, that there were some terms that “I don’t believe … any prime minister of this country should accept.”

The primary conflicts revolve around fishing rights in British waters, ensuring fair competition for companies on either side of the English Channel, and ways to solve future disputes.

Reaching a deal by the end of the year would ensure that there are no blanket tariffs or quotas on trade in goods on January 1, although there would still be new costs and red tape for businesses.

Failure to secure a deal would mean following international trade rules established by the World Trade Organization and the introduction of tariffs and other barriers that would hurt both sides, albeit affecting roughly 45% of British foreign trade as opposed to around 8% of Europe’s.

“We must have a level playing field not just for today, but we must have one for tomorrow or the day after, and to do this we must have agreements on how one can react if the other changes their legal situation,” Merkel said. “Otherwise there will be unfair competitive conditions that we cannot ask of our companies.”

Michael Gove, a senior minister in Johnson’s government, told Times Radio the EU would have to compromise if it wanted a deal. “The EU has to move,” he said.

Failure to secure a deal would put around $1 trillion (€825 billion) in annual trade at stake, and would likely snarl borders, shock financial markets and create chaos throughout supply chains across Europe.

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