Merkel sets September date for ‘hot phase’ Brexit talks – makes swipe at last minute hopes

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On Monday, the European Union finally accepted the UK will leave the bloc at the end of the transition period on December 31, 2020 following talks with Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister met European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Parliament President David Sassoli by video conference to assess the progress made on a post-Brexit trade agreement. A statement from the European Commission confirmed both sides had noted the UK’s decision not to request an extension to the transition period beyond the end of this year.

The trade talks have so far ended in stalemate, with issues including EU access to UK fishing waters, business competition regulations and the European Court of Justice’s role in governing a deal proving to be major sticking points.

The UK has always insisted a trade agreement must be signed before the end of the transition period on December 31, but will make a decision before the autumn on whether any deal is possible.

Negotiators from both sides will now meet for a series of five consecutive week-long rounds of talks from the beginning in July.

Following the latest talks on Monday, Mr Johnson warned talks needed “a bit of oomph” if a deal is to be agreed next month.

But a leaked document from the German Government, seen by Reuters, has warned Berlin is expecting negotiations to drag on much longer.

The document reads: “From September, the negotiations enter a hot phase.

“Britain is already escalating threats in Brussels, wants to settle as much as possible in the shortest possible time and hopes to achieve last-minute success in the negotiations.”

Germany could play a key role in determining the fate of any trade deal, as the country is taking over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Council on July 1.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will continue to lead talks for Brussels, and there are no plans from member states to change his negotiating mandate.

But the European Council presidency still plays an important role in finding political compromises among the 27 remaining countries in the bloc.

German ambassador to the EU Michael Clauss told a recent panel discussion by the European Policy Centre he expects the ongoing Brexit negotiations “to absorb a lot, or most, of the political attention” of the German Council Presidency.

Jürgen Hardt, the foreign policy spokesperson of Ms Merkel’s CDU/CSU coalition in Germany, said: “If Prime Minister Boris Johnson is most likely to trust a foreign head of Government, it is Merkel.

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“She has always respected the vote of the British people, even if she thinks it is wrong.”

He added: “What Johnson can certainly expect from Angela Merkel is that she will do her best to support him in pursuing his Brexit policy as long as it does not conflict with the fundamental interests of the EU.”

Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove offered hope to a deal being agreed by saying the UK will be as flexible as possible in trying to strike an agreement next month.

He told ministers: “We’re ready to be flexible about how we secure a free trade agreement that works for both sides,” he said.

“The UK however has been clear throughout that the new relationship we seek with the EU must fully reflect our regained independence, sovereignty and autonomy. One thing we cannot do is accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

“The UK’s political will is there, our position is reasonable, based on precedent, and we still have the time to bring a deal home.”

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