European sources claimed the two sides are having discussions on a potential “landing zone” that could form the basis of the future relationship. After the first face-to-face discussions since March, officials agreed to meet again in London next week in order to maintain the momentum. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, and David Frost, the Prime Minister’s top Europe adviser, yesterday ended their scheduled talks 24 hours early.
It is understood negotiators are now focused on a barebones free-trade agreement, that eliminates tariffs and quotas, in order to meet seal a deal in the short time available.
Officials are working on a compromise that will distance the UK from the ECJ’s jurisdiction but while maintaining the Luxembourg-based court as the final arbiter of EU law.
However, Brussels also expects British negotiators to show more flexibility by moving away from a number of its redlines, such as accepting a single overarching framework for the future agreement or more certainty for European fishermen who operate in the UK’s waters.
Mr Frost and Mr Barnier yesterday both warned of substantial hurdles towards a deal, but insisted they would continue working on securing an agreement.
Michel Barnier and David Frost are working on a potential ‘landing zone’ for a compromise Brexit dea
David Frost enters the EU Commission’s Berlaymont to meet Michel Barnier
Mr Barnier signalled that he is ready to reshape the EU’s demand for a regulatory level-playing field by acknowledging Boris Johnson’s concerns over a potential role for the European Court of Justice in any future relationship.
But the Frenchman urged Mr Frost to return to London to secure permission for a similar compromise that could break the impasse.
He said that Brussels had “listened carefully to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statements in recent weeks”, including “no role for the European Court of Justice in the UK, no obligation for the UK to continue to be bound by EU law, and an agreement on fisheries that shows Brexit makes a real difference”.
Mr Barnier added: “The EU expects its positions to be better understood and respected in order to reach an agreement.
Michel Barnier is the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator
“We need an equivalent engagement by the UK.”
Mr Frost hinted that the physical meetings had unlocked a degree of “flexibility”, adding: “The negotiations have been comprehensive and useful. But they have also underlined the significant differences that still remain between us on a number of important issues.”
In a radio interview today, Mr Johnson insisted he had not been shown disrespect for the EU’s position.
But he insisted any potential agreement could not leave Britain locked to the bloc’s decision-making processes.
The Prime Minister told LBC: “I’m not remotely disrespectful of Michel or the EU system, which I know well and understand deeply.
“I just don’t think that it’s right for us to proceed on the basis of the European Court of Justice continuing to arbitrate in the UK or us continuing to have to obey EU laws even when we are out of the EU, or us having to hand over our amazing fish stock.
David Frost is the UK’s chief trade negotiator with the EU
“So, we are not going to do those things. We made it very clear.”
Mr Johnson insisted he wants a deal to be struck within weeks but is ready to walk away rather than allow them to drag on.
He added: “We now need to make sure we get a good deal.
“I’ve had some very good conversations with friends and colleagues around the EU. I’m a bit more optimistic than Michel is there.
“There’s a good agreement to be reached, but obviously if we can’t then we will have the very good option also of an Australian-style arrangement.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who holds the EU’s rotating presidency, has said a deal should be concluded by the autumn to allow the bloc’s leaders to rubber-stamp the agreement at their European Council summit in mid-October.
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The veteran leader earlier urged the bloc to continue its preparations for a no-deal Brexit.
She said: “I will continue to campaign for a good solution.
“But I have to add that we in the EU and in Germany, on all levels of our state, have to prepare for the case that there will be no agreement after this issue, that is worth defending the European idea.”