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World

Brexit talks move to London after tough week in Brussels

  • "The talks this week are slightly more informal in nature," Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman said.
Published July 6, 2020

LONDON: London and Brussels said Monday the latest round of trade talks would start later than scheduled this week as both sides try to thrash out a new post-Brexit relationship.

This week's negotiations had been due to take place in London from Monday, according to an initial timetable, but were put back 24 hours to Tuesday.

No explanation was given for the last-minute change in the timetable.

"The talks this week are slightly more informal in nature," Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman told reporters.

"There isn't a formal published agenda but the purpose is to see if there's more progress that can be made."

In Brussels, the European Commission said the talks were at a "technical level" between groups of experts on both sides and would run through until Thursday.

Both sides said EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier would meet his UK counterpart David Frost on the sidelines of the talks.

Last week's face-to-face meeting in Brussels broke up a day early on Thursday with few signs of movement between the two sides.

Both Barnier and Frost used similar language to bemoan major stumbling blocks to progress in key areas, stoking fears they may fail to reach an agreement before an end-of-year deadline.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel recognised the possibility of a "no-deal" scenario, urging the EU to prepare as her country took over the rotating presidency of the 27-member bloc last week.

Britain followed through on the results of a 2016 EU membership referendum and officially pulled out of the EU in January after nearly half a century.

It is currently bound by EU rules until December 31 to allow time for the terms of a new trade deal to be secured.

Should they fail to do so, ties would revert to the minimum standards -- and accompanying high tariffs and quotas -- of the World Trade Organization.

British businesses are lobbying hard for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to provide reassurance about the feasibility of a deal to allow them time to prepare for potential disruption.

But EU officials are under less pressure to strike a quick agreement and have suggested a deal could still be done as late as October.

Key areas of disagreement include the extent of EU access to UK fishing grounds, and so-called "level playing field" arrangements to ensure fair competition.

A full session involving hundreds of negotiators is planned for July 20 in London.

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