UK and EU to enter continuous talks to resolve Brexit deadlock
Brexit secretary Dominic Raab acknowledges final-stage negotiations need to speed up
The UK and the EU have agreed to hold continuous Brexit talks after a cool encounter between lead negotiators in Brussels appeared to yield little progress.
The negotiations are now entering the final stage, said Michel Barnier, the former French minister who is leading the talks for the EU. We have agreed that the EU and the UK will negotiate continuously from now on.
Dominic Raab, who became Brexit secretary last month after a spate of resignations, said: We need to step up the intensity of the negotiations as we enter the final phase and we have agreed to meet regularly to resolve those outstanding issues.
With the clock ticking down to an autumn deadline to reach an agreement, Raab said he remained confident of making a deal in October, while his French opposite number said parliamentary timetables meant a deal could be reached certainly not later than the beginning of November.
The two sides resumed Brexit talks last week after a three-week summer gap but differences were close to the surface. EU sources said there was little progress in two days of technical talks last week, which focused on the highly charged issue of the Irish border and the future relationship. Raab said he had had honest conversations with Barnier over their differences.
Senior UK and EU officials will gather on Wednesday to continue talks, while Raab and Barnier will meet next week to assess progress.
It was Raabs third meeting with Barnier since David Davis quit his post in protest at Theresa Mays Chequers plan. The prime minister had proposed that the UK maintain a common rulebook for goods with the EU, while negotiating a special arrangement on customs. But Barnier has already shot down the proposals on customs, while EU officials are wary of undermining the single market.
Barnier said the talks were far more advanced on common foreign policy and security than the economic relationship.
Mays soft Brexit plan poses significant challenges for the EU, which is deeply wary of handing any competitive advantage to a large economy on its doorstep, or doing anything to undermine the EUs common rulebook and legal system.
Our challenge for the coming weeks is to try and define an ambitious partnership for the EU, a partnership that has no precedent, Barnier said. This partnership has to respect the single market and the foundations of the European project.
He said a no-deal Brexit was the most costly option, while reiterating that this was not what the EU wanted.
Brussels fears that little will happen in the runup to the Conservative party conference, where Tory Brexiters such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg are expected to dominate fringe events. EU sources judge that May will have little room to make the compromises they deem essential if there is to be a deal later in the autumn.
The British government has attempted to get round Barnier by appealing directly to national capitals, but the strategy has yet to reveal visible results.
Later this week Raab will set out more details of the governments no-deal plans, but has rejected reports there could be shortages of medicines. As you will see when we set out our plans, some of these hair-raising scare stories are very far from the truth and I look forward to explaining the context on Thursday.
Raab told the BBC he would act swiftly to secure the rights of European citizens in the UK in the event of a no-deal scenario. It is inconceivable we would do anything other than make sure that they are legally in a position where theyre secure to stay.
His words are unlikely to reassure the 3 million EU citizens in the UK, who fear losing rights linked to employment, pensions, health and education that would be mostly guaranteed by a Brexit deal.