Michel Barnier 'could be in London on Thursday' for Brexit talks

Christopher Hope
·3 min read
David Frost and Michel Barnier, the UK and EU's chief negotiators, in happier times. But hopes are rising that trade talks could still resume.   - Reuters
David Frost and Michel Barnier, the UK and EU's chief negotiators, in happier times. But hopes are rising that trade talks could still resume. - Reuters

Michel Barnier could be in London for rebooted Brexit negotiations on Thursday, sources in Brussels and the UK suggested amid cautious optimism a free trade agreement can still be struck.

The EU’s chief negotiator today tried to convince David Frost to return to the negotiating table, after Boris Johnson declared negotiations “over” last week.  

Meanwhile the Prime Minister suffered a heavy defeat and Tory peer rebellion in the House of Lords over controversial Brexit legislation that breaks international law.   

If Mr Barnier was to visit London it would be the most tangible signal since last week that there could still be a deal between the UK and EU.   

One senior UK Government source said ministers were "hoping to hear more from the EU" before the end of this week. A second source said Mr Barnier could be in London on Thursday.  

A Brussels source added that Mr Barnier could come on Thursday but "it is not confirmed".  

After video conference talks with Lord Frost, Mr Barnier tweeted,  “We should be making the most out of the little time left. Our door remains open."  

A Number 10 spokesman said that the two men had a “constructive discussion” and would stay in touch.

The trade talks, which stalled on fishing, the level playing field guarantees and the deal’s enforcement, were still on ice, he said.  

UK sources described the state of talks  as “fragile”. “We’re not there yet,” one source said.   

The Prime Minister declared he was ready to “embrace” no deal on Friday, unless there was a “fundamental change” of approach from the EU.  

Mr Barnier agreed to UK demands for intensified trade negotiations across all subjects and on the basis of common legal texts on Monday.  

A Downing St spokesman said that negotiations would only resume if the EU accepted that “movement” in the talks needs to come from the bloc, as well as the UK. 

The European Commission’s chief spokesman said yesterday (TUES) that both sides would have to compromise to get a deal.   

“This is a question 101 [a basic question] for students in international negotiations,” he said in Brussels.

“I think it’s pretty obvious in order to come to an agreement both sides need to meet. And this is also obviously the case in this negotiation.”  

The EU has set an end of October deadline for the deal to be finished so there is enough time to ratify it before the end of the transition period on December 31.

Brussels has made clear it will never sign a trade deal, if the UK pushes ahead with the Internal Market Bill.   

Peers yesterday (TUES) fired the opening salvo in a looming battle with the Government over the legislation, which disapplies parts of the Withdrawal Agreement. 

Members backed a "regret" amendment in the House of Lords by 395 votes to 169, a majority of 226, in a heavy defeat for the Government. 

The amendment warned contentious clauses involving Northern Ireland "would undermine the rule of law and damage the reputation of the United Kingdom".

39 Conservative peers defied the Government, including Lord Howard, former chancellors Lord Lamont of Lerwick and Lord Clarke of Nottingham, and Theresa May's former chief of staff Lord Barwell.

The defeat sets the scene for the likelihood of protracted parliamentary "ping pong", where legislation is passed between the two Houses.

The Prime Minister and Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, held a conference call with business chiefs on Tuesday to urge them to prepare for leaving the single market and customs union at the end of the year.

With just 10 weeks until the transition finishes, Mr Johnson and Mr Gove told bosses they should be ready for major change regardless of whether there is a deal with Brussels.

The bosses told the BBC that it was a "terrible call" and accused the Prime Minister of "being disrespectful" after he told them coronavirus had led to apathy about preparing for the end of the transition period