UK and EU agree to ‘dial down rhetoric’ in Brexit talks | Politics

The UK and the EU have agreed to “dial down the rhetoric” over Brexit in an effort to open up space for a deal, it has emerged.

Brussels and London are expected to produce legal texts of their negotiating positions next week, with diplomatic sources claiming both sides have agreed to “lower the temperature” to enable the texts to be considered in detail to assess the scale of the divergence between the two sides.

“The moment you see the legal texts that’s when you see how good or bad things really are,” one insider said.

Next week’s Brexit talks in London have been cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak, but in a joint statement both sides said they were looking at alternative options, such as teleconferencing.

“Given the latest Covid-19 developments, UK and EU negotiators have today jointly decided not to hold next week’s round of negotiations in London, in the form originally scheduled.

“Both sides are currently exploring alternative ways to continue discussions, including if possible the use of video conferences,” a joint UK and EU statement said.

While the coronavirus outbreak has pushed Brexit out of the spotlight, negotiators are concerned that behind-the-scenes efforts must continue if they are to seal the outline of a deal before June.

Four areas have already been identified as the areas of deepest conflict, two being fisheries, and crime and justice – with little hope of progress in the second round of talks.

On Northern Ireland, the EU has made it clear the onus is on the UK to come up with a plan to implement the controversial special arrangements, which include a trade barrier down the Irish Sea. The expectation is that the UK will come to the inaugural meeting of the EU-UK joint committee meeting on 30 March with its first such proposals.

“The ball is now in the UK court,” one source said. “It is up to the UK to tell us how they are going to implement this.”

While there has been a notable de-escalation in the war of words, there is concern about the fundamental clash in approaches to Brexit; the UK defining it as a battle of sovereignty and the EU prioritising the economic case for close relations.

Fisheries is seen as a clear case in point, with the UK arguing the case for control over its waters, and the EU arguing for an economic partnership in which both sides will continue to fish in British waters. Both sides are expecting a major battle over fisheries, one of the least economically important areas of trade but the one that “wins or loses elections”.

With the UK vowing not to extend the transition period beyond 31 December, negotiations experts say a row will inevitably be deployed as a tactic, possibly by both sides.

“You have limited time, you are in the worst possible scenario as a rule-taker and money-giver, so extending the transition period is not politically sustainable. So what do you do to achieve a deal? You dramatise it enough to create the tension to force a deal,” one source said.

It has also become increasingly apparent in Brussels that London is not going to shift its position on Brexit as primarily an issue of sovereignty, rather than economics, causing problems in areas where agreement could easily be reached.

On Wednesday, Michael Gove told MPs there would not be an agreement on Reach, the EU body of rules that govern chemicals.

Speaking as one of the most powerful government ministers in relation to Brexit, Gove indicated the government was not objecting to divergence on the Reach rules, telling MPs “one of the problems is that it involves the European court of justice”.

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