Brexit talks enter another week of high drama

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove has talks in Brussels ahead of a ninth round of trade negotiations.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove attends the third meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee in Brussels
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove attends the third meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee in Brussels

Brexit negotiations between the UK and EU have reached yet another moment of high drama, as the clock ticks down to full withdrawal from the bloc.

Here, the PA news agency looks at the unfolding situation.

– Hasn’t the UK already left the EU?

The UK formally withdrew in January, but said it would abide by EU rules in a transition period until the end of the year, as a hoped-for trade deal was sorted out.

– What’s happening now?

Negotiations have made slow progress and, at times, proved acrimonious, with both sides sniping at the attitude of the other.

– What are the main sticking points?

Trading relations between Britain and Northern Ireland are a major issue, along with areas such as fishing rights, state subsidies and the rights of citizens.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove (Aaron Chown/PA)

– What happens now?

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove held talks in Brussels on Monday with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic. On Tuesday, the ninth round of negotiations between London and Brussels begins.

– What did Mr Gove and Mr Sefcovic discuss?

The impact of the UK Internal Market Bill on the Withdrawal Agreement appeared to loom large, as Brussels has reacted strongly to controversial provisions in the legislation announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson overriding elements of the Brexit divorce deal referring to trade within the UK between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Mr Sefcovic, who co-chairs the EU-UK joint committee, has called for the move to be dropped by the end of September, or the UK would face legal action for breaking international law.

– What did the to two men say after the meeting?

Mr Gove said: “We want to make sure that the position of Northern Ireland is secure in the United Kingdom, we want to make sure the Withdrawal Agreement is implemented in full.

“But those clauses are there. They are in legislation supported by the House of Commons as a safety net if need be. And those clauses will remain in that Bill.”

Mr Sefcovic said the UK’s position was still “far apart” from what the EU could accept.

“We maintain that the Bill if adopted in its current form would constitute an extremely serious violation of the (Northern Ireland) protocol as an essential part of the Withdrawal Agreement and of international law.”

Mr Sefcovic said the EU “will not be shy” in taking legal action if the UK fails to comply by the deadline of the end of the month on Wednesday.

– Has the Johnson Government backed down?

No. The controversial UK Internal Market Bill, which contains the measures, returns to the Commons on Tuesday, despite heavy criticism from former prime ministers Theresa May, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Sir John Major.

EU Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic
EU Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic (right) (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Government admission that such action would breach international law has seen major disquiet on Tory benches, and a Government move to allow MPs a say on whether the measures would be implemented at a later stage may not be enough to stop some voting against it or abstaining.

– When will crunch time arrive on the Brexit talks?

Both sides have said that a deal would need to be struck by mid-October in order to have time to be ratified before the end of the year.

An EU summit on October 15 is likely to be significant.

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