Brexit bombshell: Coronavirus and threat of China ‘more important’ than securing EU deal

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Sir Sebastian Wood said he expected the UK and EU to reach a last-minute agreement on trade but said history would show other events were far more significant. The ambassador predicted a “positive conclusion” to the stalled Brexit trade talks and said he would bet on a “last-minute agreement”. He acknowledged both sides’ positions had hardened but said Germany’s presidency of the EU Council would play an important role in the eventual outcome and hinted Angela Merkel could help strike a deal.

If we look back in the future, we will see that other issues were even more important

Sir Sebastian Wood

Sir Sebastian described the German leader as “the most experienced politician in the EU” and referred to the conclusion of the Brexit withdrawal agreement last year.

He said: “At that time she had played a very important role and that will be the case again.”

The ambassador stressed Britain’s top priority was to achieve an independent economic policy.

He said: “If the EU is ready to accept that the UK will get a – I would say perfectly normal – trade agreement with the EU in the future, comparable to the trade agreements with Canada, Japan or Singapore that the EU has already agreed to, then we will have a deal.

“What London is not ready to accept are special obligations that only apply to Great Britain because we were previously a member of the EU and are now leaving.

“That would be unfair from a British point of view.”

Sir Sebastian said a no deal Brexit would be “a shame for both sides” but said such an outcome would be manageable.

He said: “Both sides could survive. And if we look back in the future, we will see that other issues were even more important to both sides at that point in time.”

He pointed to the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and relations with China as examples.

Ms Merkel said negotiations over Britain’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU will enter their decisive phase over the coming weeks.

Her comments came after chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier called for a deal by the end of October, after negotiations made little progress last week.

A discussion about the negotiations over Britain and the European Union’s post-Brexit relationship has been dropped from the agenda of a meeting of EU envoys next week because the talks have stalled.

EU officials now believe the British government is prepared to risk a no deal exit when the transition period comes to an end on December 31, and will try to pin the blame on Brussels if talks fail.

The German government, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU council, had intended to discuss Brexit during the meeting, but dropped it because there had not been “any tangible progress” in the talks.

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Disagreements over state aid rules and fishing quotas have led to the deadlock which the EU says must be in the making in time to be approved at an October 15-16 summit of the bloc’s 27 national leaders to enable ratification this year.

Beyond the biggest stumbling blocks, differences also linger in discussions on migration, security, dispute-settling mechanisms, human rights guarantees and other areas.

The eighth round of Brexit talks are not due to formally start until September 7 but Mr Barnier has hinted discussions could begin earlier.

Following an employers’ conference in Paris, the EU chief said he had no plans to meet UK negotiator David Frost this week, before adding: “But perhaps next week if conditions allow.”

The UK chief negotiator said the EU’s insistence on accepting its terms on state aid and fishing had made an agreement “unnecessarily difficult”.

(Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg)

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