Post-Brexit talks: A chink of light at the end of the UK-EU trade tunnel?

Several rounds of talks on future trade and relations between the UK and the EU have taken place since the British departure from the bloc last January, with few significant signs of progress.

Even though negotiations have intensified over the summer, a breakthrough in the battle to reach a deal has remained elusive.

But although large differences remain on fundamental issues such as competition and fishing rights, both the UK and EU have shown willingness to compromise in some areas — leading to hope that a deal can be struck.

The standstill post-Brexit transition period which keeps most arrangements from the UK’s EU membership in place expires at the end of 2020.

Convergence on the shape of a deal?

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has been more upbeat in talking up the prospects for an agreement. He has reportedly told member state envoys that the UK has scaled down its ambitions and is seeking a “low-quality, low-profile agreement”.

The EU wants an overall, wide-ranging agreement in one comprehensive treaty, whereas the UK has been seeking a simpler free trade deal and separate agreement on other matters.

But after the fifth round of talks which took place in London, Barnier’s UK counterpart David Frost said in a statement that his side had “heard the EU’s concerns about a complex Switzerland-style set of agreements” and was “ready to consider simpler structures”, subject to agreement on dispute settlement and governance.

Barnier is also said to have repeated to envoys his belief, as stated in his assessment of the latest talks, that Boris Johnson’s government “want to find an agreement with the EU”.

No referee role for the ECJ?

David Frost said in his latest report that “the EU has listened to the UK on some of the issues most important to us, notably on the role of the (European) Court of Justice (ECJ)”.

The British side has consistently ruled out any jurisdiction for the ECJ over the UK’s laws, or in the prime minister’s words “any supranational control in any area”.

Brussels has previously said that if EU law needed to be interpreted, an arbitration panel should refer cases to the ECJ and follow its rulings.

The EU’s negotiator acknowledged in his latest assessment that “no role for the European Court of Justice in the UK” was the first of Johnson’s three red lines.

“We have tried to understand how these three red lines can be squared with our commitment to a comprehensive new partnership,” Michel Barnier said. “We made progress towards the objective of a comprehensive and single institutional framework, which must include robust enforcement mechanisms,” he added.

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