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Trade talks between the UK and EU have been ongoing for more than five months as both sides desperately try to thrash out an agreement before the end of the transition period on December 31 – a deadline the Prime Minister has refused to extend. But little progress has been made in seven rounds of official talks between the negotiating teams led by the UK’s David Frost and EU counterpart Michel Barnier. Both sides have blamed each other for the continued deadlock, with significant distance remaining between them on several crucial red lines, predominantly fishing, state aid and the EU’s level playing field.
Mr Johnson delivered on his general election manifesto to “Get Brexit Done” on January 31, with London and Brussels entering into an 11-month transition period.
The Prime Minister’s direct involvement in post-Brexit trade talks with the EU has been minimal, leaving Mr Frost to head up the negotiating strategy.
But Best for Britain, which launched in April 2017 to stop Brexit and continue the UK’s membership of the EU, has warned “controversial decisions” must now be taken at a political rather than negotiator level.
The campaign group’s CEO Naomi Smith believes significant progress could be made on several crucial red lines once “political actors” involve themselves, but warned this must happen quickly as the clock ticks down to a no-deal Brexit.
She told Express.co.uk: “The signs of late have not been encouraging, with EU sources talking despondently about a “whole summer wasted”. Controversial decisions will have to be taken at a political, rather than negotiator level.”
When asked whether a no-deal Brexit is inevitable if there is no progress made during the eighth round of talks between the UK and EU in London next week, Ms Smith replied: “Nothing is inevitable until the clock runs out.
“Once the political actors themselves get involved, we are much more likely to see movement on the red lines each side claims to have.
“The ticking is loud, but there is still time, and it is remarkable how much can be agreed in late-night talks once some momentum is built up.
“These negotiations are difficult but the prize is substantial – while there is time, there is hope.”
The Best for Britain CEO said despite the continued deadlock, the UK and EU will both eventually have to give ground on some of their red lines to make a breakthrough in trade talks, insisting compromising should not be seen as a sign of weakness.
But she warned until there is progress made on the crucial red lines of fisheries and state aid, which remain “extremely problematic”, talks will remain stalled as “in such negotiations, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
Ms Smith said: “In trade negotiations, both sides must appear to blink simultaneously.
“Compromise is not weak: it is utterly essential, particularly if the UK and EU are to agree a deal before the year’s end.”
The Best for Britain CEO also warned the UK or EU walking away from the negotiating table “solves nothing”, as it would only push existing problems into next year and magnify their impact further.
She believes a trade deal is equally “essential” for both the UK and EU, urging both negotiating teams to distance themselves from “zero-sum politic” and “accept that deals benefit everyone”.
Ms Smith concluded: “Walking away solves nothing. UK-EU trade will continue, whatever happens, and walking away would simply push our existing issues into next year and beyond.
“However, without a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, that trade will be unnecessarily constricted by red tape, border delays and tariffs which will drive up the costs of both goods and basic foodstuffs for British consumers.”
She added: “The EU is the UK’s largest trading partner. In 2019, UK exports to the EU were £300billion (43 percent of all UK exports).
“UK imports from the EU were £372billion (51 percent of all UK imports) and so a trade deal is essential from a UK standpoint.
“However, the EU is concerned at Britain undercutting its level playing field rules, and becoming the principal EU competitor, on Europe’s doorstep, so it’s fair to say a deal is essential for the EU too.
“We need to get away from zero-sum politics, and to accept that deals benefit everyone – the pie itself gets bigger.”
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