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Thursday, 04 March 2021

Britain vows to intensify talks with EU for Brexit deal

AFP , Thursday 19 Jul 2018
Theresa May
Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May speaks at the Farnborough Airshow, in Farnborough, Britain July 16, 2018 (Photo: Reuters)
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Britain's new negotiator Dominic Raab pledged Thursday to intensify talks with the EU to secure a Brexit deal as fears grew in Brussels that time was running out for an orderly withdrawal next year.

Raab met his EU counterpart Michel Barnier for his first talks in Brussels where officials warned European Union member countries and businesses to "step up preparations" for Britain's exit on March 30.

"I look forward to intensifying, heating up the negotiations and making sure we're in the best position to get the best deal," Raab told reporters, standing next to Barnier.

Raab replaced David Davis, who was part of a government rebellion against Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit strategy, with the political discord alarming Brussels.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, urged "member states and private parties to step up preparations... for all outcomes" by the March 30 withdrawal deadline.

It said "there is still no certainty that there will be a ratified withdrawal agreement in place on that date," even though the EU is working around the clock for a deal.

"The UK's withdrawal will undoubtedly cause disruption -- for example in business supply chains -- whether or not there is a deal," the commission added.

It highlighted checks at a new border, the validity of licences, certificates and authorisations issued by Britain as well as data transfers.

Britons voted to leave the 28-nation bloc in June 2016, but negotiations were only launched a year later and have bogged down frequently since then.

Stumbling blocks include the future of the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland against a backdrop of discord in London.

Raab is leading negotiations for the British side since Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson quit last week over May's Brexit blueprint, which would keep Britain economically close to the EU.

May is battling to unite her Conservative Party around her blueprint, formally unveiled last week following months of cabinet infighting.

It would see Britain ask the European Union for a free trade area for goods through a "facilitated customs arrangement" alongside a "common rulebook".

Brexiteers believe that keeps Britain too close to the EU, while pro-Europeans think it fails to protect the country's dominant services sector, among other gripes.

The backlash has seen the prime minister face persistent rumours Tory MPs are planning to topple her.

Barnier has warned that it will be difficult to conclude the negotiations by the October target, which would give parliaments on both sides time to endorse the deal.

"We have a lot of work to do with our teams," Barnier said.

During "this short time," he said he and Raab had to oversee efforts for a deal on future political ties as well as finalise a withdrawal agreement.

"We're not there yet," he said.

The EU aims to give Britain a transition period until the end of 2020 to give businesses and others time to adjust to a post-Brexit future.

The 16-page commission document warns "there will be no transition period and EU law will cease to apply to and in the United Kingdom on March 30" in the event of no deal.

It also warned of possible disruption to transport, including aviation, as well as to the flow of goods as a result of customs checks.

On Wednesday, the Irish government said it had stepped up preparations for Britain's departure, including what it called the "unlikely case of a 'no deal' Brexit."

These include Ireland's plans for at least 920 new customs and veterinary inspectors at ports and airports to tackle changes in the trading relationship with Britain.

Barnier is due to brief the 27 European affairs ministers on Friday about the latest in the Brexit negotiations.

An EU source said all the negotiators sought a withdrawal agreement as the cost is "disproportionately high" without one.

And with the situation so "volatile" in London, the source said, they will "try not to put oil on the fire."

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