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Germany, France vow united front as Brexit talks sour

Germany and France pledged to maintain a firm, united front in talks with Britain on its future relationship with the EU as Brexit talks enter a rocky new phase, their ministers for Europe told AFP.

After Britain’s bombshell announcement that it would intentionally violate its EU withdrawal treaty on the road to its divorce from the bloc, the Franco-German powerhouse said it was on the same page.

“The French position is also the German position — that is namely the EU position,” Germany’s state minister for European affairs Michael Roth said in a joint interview with his visiting French counterpart Clement Beaune. 

Since Germany took over the presidency of the EU on July 1, Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly warned that the bloc must prepare for the possibility that talks could collapse.

The likelihood of failure increased dramatically this week when the British government admitted its new bill governing post-Brexit trade in Britain and Northern Ireland breaks international law.

Roth and Beaune said their governments were determined to stick to their principles even as the prospect of a “hard Brexit” and an accompanying economic blow loomed amid a disastrous pandemic.

“We are taking a constructive but firm approach,” Beaune said.

“It is one of the key priorities of the German (EU) presidency to establish a high degree of unity” among the remaining 27 member states regarding the talks, Roth added.

Britain followed through on the results of a deeply divisive 2016 referendum and left the EU after almost half a century of integration on January 31.

It remains bound by the bloc’s rules until December 31 pending the outcome of negotiations about its future relationship with its largest trading partner.

But with the pandemic wreaking havoc on the timetable, fears are growing that time is running out fast to secure an agreement that could prevent a messy exit.

‘Proceed in good faith’

London has set an October 15 deadline for a deal even though chief negotiators have warned that an agreement lies out of reach because of gaps in major areas such as fishing rights and fair competition rules.

Beaune said the ball was now in the UK’s court to head off a calamitous no-deal departure.

“It’s up to the UK to say whether it wants — beyond speculation and rumours — to leave without an EU deal, which would not be good for the EU but even less so for the UK,” he said.

He pointed to the Withdrawal Agreement, which he said provided the “framework” for an accord on the future relationship.

“We must stick to its principles and now speed up the negotiations on the substance and details regarding the implementation” of the declaration, he said, adding that he refused to believe “one of the parties would walk away from this agreement”.

Both Roth and Beaune said their governments wanted to maintain “strong ties” with Britain.

“For that to happen, you obviously need both sides to uphold what they already agreed and proceed in good faith with negotiations on a future relationship,” Beaune said.

“We want a deal,” he stressed. “That is the position of France and the EU.”


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