Brexit talks enter intensified phase

British lead negotiator David Frost

A fresh round of intensified negotiations between Britain and the European Union are set to begin on Monday, after four rounds of talks brought little progress in agreeing post-Brexit arrangements, DPA reports.

Both sides agreed to ramp up the timetable of talks at a top-level meeting in mid-June, with just over six months left to strike a deal before EU rules cease to apply in Britain.

British lead negotiator David Frost had been due to arrive in Brussels on Sunday with a team of around 20 mediators ahead of a week of talks, the Telegraph newspaper reported.

The British side is ramping up the tempo and is unwilling to waste time on talks that are not progressing, unnamed government sources reportedly told the Telegraph.

The source said there was no reason why the rough outline of an agreement should not take shape in the next couple of months, while an agreement later in the year would be "far too late" to bring clarity to the economy.

Frost's EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, meanwhile, has asked for "clear signals" for a compromise from London. The moment of truth will come in October, as this is the deadline for any trade deal to be completed.

Britain formally left the EU in January, but belongs to the EU's internal market and the customs union until the end of the year. Failure to forge a future relationship could result in a hard economic break between the two sides.

Britain has blocked an extension of the negotiation period.

The idea of revving up the frequency of negotiating rounds was given a blessing at the highest political level a couple of weeks ago, when the prime minister held a summit via video link with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Both sides have underlined their commitment to agreeing and ratifying a deal by the end of the year.

This will include weekly meetings - at times in London, at others, in Brussels. And the first face-to-face talks since the Covid-19 pandemic hit Europe, infecting the EU and the UK's chief negotiators.

EU negotiators say they'll do their best. EU leaders say they have full confidence in their chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. But at their summit earlier this month, they demanded he keep them well-informed every step of the way.

Throughout this month, smaller groups of negotiators will focus on the main sticking points between the two sides- such as fishing and competition regulations, including environmental and - of key importance to the EU - state aid rules.

The hope is that face-to-face talks will facilitate the odd informal chat over coffee or a cooling-off walk around the block, allowing negotiators the breathing space to find solutions, rather than each side continuing to parrot already well-known red lines at one another via Zoom chat or similar.

Brussels has indicated that it is willing to be flexible, as long as principles are protected, like protecting the single market. But what does that mean in practice?

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