Wed | Oct 21, 2020

Negotiators hunker down as Brexit talks hit final weeks

Published:Tuesday | September 29, 2020 | 1:06 PM
The European Union flag hangs from Europa House in London, Tuesday, September 29, 2020. The ninth round of trade talks between the EU and Britain is set to start in Brussels as the two sides continue to clash over the controversial UK Internal Market Bill. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

BRUSSELS (AP) — Amid the din of diplomatic diatribes, European Union and British negotiators hunkered down Tuesday to seek compromises on everything from fishing rights to business competition rules, in a belated attempt to broker a rudimentary trade deal following the United Kingdom’s departure from the bloc in January.

A post-Brexit transition period ends on December 31, and Britain made already strained relations worse this month by announcing plans to breach the legally binding divorce agreement it signed on its departure from the bloc. The EU has responded by threatening legal action.

“It is casting a dark shadow over the ongoing negotiations,” said German Europe Minister Michael Roth, whose country currently holds the EU presidency and, as the bloc’s economic engine, has a massive stake in a positive outcome for the Brexit trade talks.

Roth said the withdrawal agreement had been crafted to preserve peace on the island of Ireland, where the U.K. and the EU have their only land border, between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

If it becomes law, Britain’s Internal Market Bill will give the UK the power to disregard part of the Brexit withdrawal treaty dealing with trade to and from Northern Ireland, which shares a 300-mile border with Ireland.

EU leaders fear that could lead to the re-imposition of a hard land border and erode the stability that has underpinned peace since Northern Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday accord.

“To recklessly jeopardise that historic achievement would send a disastrous message,” Roth wrote in Der Spiegel.

The U.K. government says it respects the peace accord and the Brexit withdrawal agreement, but wants the law as a “safety net” in case the EU makes unreasonable demands after Brexit that could impede trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The bill is due to win approval from the House of Commons on Tuesday, despite opposition from some members of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s governing Conservative Party.

Five former prime ministers, including Johnson’s Conservative predecessor Theresa May, have condemned the legislation.

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