London and Brussels are sticking to negotiations over the relationship after Brexit, despite faltering

 Britain and the European Union on Friday expressed their regret at the lack of progress in negotiations on their relationship after Brexit, at the conclusion of a new week of negotiations, but they are adhering to the possibility of avoiding divorce without an agreement that has catastrophic consequences from Both sides of the English Channel.

"Little progress has been made this week," European negotiator Michel Barnier said, speaking at a press conference at the end of four days of video chats.

He warned that "we cannot continue indefinitely in this case," noting that an agreement must be reached by "October 31, that is, after less than five months" so that member states can conclude it by the end of the year.

But he added, "I have no doubt that during the summer or early fall, at the latest, we will reach an understanding ground."

British negotiator David Frost, for his part, also said in a statement that progress was "still limited" but stressed that "the tone of our talks was positive."

"We are on the verge of reaching the limits of what we can do in the framework of remote conversations. It is clear that we have to step up and accelerate work in order to make progress," Frost said, meeting on this point with Barnier's view.

A European source said that the difficulty of the negotiations this week focused on contentious points such as fishing and the terms of fair competition demanded by the European Union, saying that "the British no longer pretended even to negotiate."

He continued, "There was no effort on their part, but we were prepared to have been instructed to stall."

A source familiar with the negotiations said, "We are backing off on many issues."

The gap remains deep at the conclusion of this fourth round of negotiations since the beginning of March.

Chances of reaching an agreement diminishing before December 31, the date of the end of the transition period during which Britain will continue to apply European laws, after exiting the bloc on January 31.

With negotiations failing to make progress, attention is now focused on the "high-level conference" to be held in June between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, European Commission President Ursula von der Line and European Council President Charles Michel.

This videoconference will allow a commitment to social divergence measures to combat the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic, setting an initial outcome of the negotiations and trying to stir them up.

Among the solutions proposed is to extend the transitional period and consequently the negotiation period for a year or two, and London can submit a request in this regard before the end of the month, but the British categorically reject this possibility.

Negotiators can also decide to accelerate talks during the summer to reach an agreement by autumn.

"We are entering a month that is supposed to be articulated, but we are at an impasse," a European source said.

"We cannot continue to watch each other with suspicion. Now we must give political impetus, stir the stalemate," he added.

However, this appears difficult in light of the Covid-19 epidemic, which is receiving the attention of member states and Britain, ahead of Brexit.

And the Europeans have been calling for months for a broad agreement that comes with serious guarantees that prevent Britain from liberalizing its economy on the tax, social and environmental levels. They also demand that their fishermen maintain access to British waters.

But London considers these demands wasteful, and it wants nothing more than a traditional free exchange agreement that maintains its independence in terms of legislation, with the possibility of concluding limited agreements related to specific sectors.

As negotiations falter, anxiety grows on both sides.

French Minister of State for European Affairs Amelie de Monchalin said on Friday it was necessary "to be prepared out of caution for the failure of the negotiations," according to the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

In Britain, the Bank of England called on banks to "be prepared" to exit the European Union without an agreement.

The Japanese automaker, Nissan Motor Company, warned that if negotiations fail, it may shut down its Sunderland plant in the United Kingdom, which employs 7,000 people.

 

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