The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator floated a “precautionary extension” that would allow the Prime Minister to quit the bloc’s single market and customs union as soon as any future relationship agreement was in place. In evidence released by the House of Lords yesterday, the Frenchman said his suggestion was ruled out by Downing Street, who ultimately decided not to extend the standstill arrangement beyond the end of the year. Britain had until June 30 to request an extension, of up to two years, as part of the Withdrawal Agreement agreed last October with Brussels.
Mr Barnier insisted the UK could have agreed to an extension but end it early if negotiations had concluded in a deal before the end of the year.
The Brussels bureaucrat said: “That was an option, but the United Kingdom has firmly rejected that.
“We were open to an extension, even a precautionary extension, in case of need, making allowance for one before June 30, even if in practice we did not need to use it, or all of it.
“But the UK refused to do that, so that means that time is of the essence for the negotiations and for the implementation of the withdrawal agreement, which in all circumstances must be ready for December 31, and for the preparations on the two sides in the event of no deal.”
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Michel Barnier and his deputies en route to Downing Street
Mr Barnier will resume Brexit talks with David Frost, the Prime Minister’s top trade negotiator with the EU, tonight during a private dinner at No.10.
Last week’s round of negotiations was cut short with the pair saying they had failed to overcome their differences in positions.
Britain is keen to strike a trade deal that allows zero-tariff, zero-quota access to the EU’s single market, but has rejected the bloc’s attempts to secure a role for the European Court of Justice in policing the country’s standards.
Michel Barnier is the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator
Mr Barnier insisted he is ready to compromise but will not freely accept his UK counterpart’s opening trade offer.
The Frenchman said: “The EU wants an agreement – and we are doing everything to succeed – but not at any price.”
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: “David Frost and Michel Barnier are having dinner at Number 10 this evening for informal talks.
David Frost, the UK’s top negotiator with the EU, was in Brussels last week
“The dinner tonight kicks off the talks and then tomorrow there’ll be teams of officials from the UK and from the EU sitting down having further discussions.”
The pair will dine on a start of asparagus, a main course of fillet of halibut and a dessert of summer fruits to finish.
During the intimate dinner, they will hope to break the deadlock over the so-called level-playing field, future access to Britain’s fishing waters and the overall framework of the relationship.
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The Prime Minister’s spokesman added: “I am sure discussions will cover everything from what the EU calls the level-playing field through to governance structures.”
Small teams of officials will discuss potential compromises ahead of another round of talks next week in Brussels.
The two sides aren’t due to hold an official set of trade negotiations until July 20, that will take place in London.