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EU, Britain start talks to break Brexit impasse

By Don Jacobson
EU, Britain start talks to break Brexit impasse
European Council President Charles Michel (L) speaks with EC President Ursula von der Leyen via video conference Monday at the European Council building in Brussels, Belgium. Photo by Francisco Seco/EPA-EFE/Pool

June 15 (UPI) -- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and officials of the European Union began talks Monday to break an impasse in negotiations concerning their relationship after the Brexit transition period ends in December.

Johnson, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and other top officials began the videoconference hoping for progress toward a trade agreement for when the transition ends on Jan. 1.

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Britain's exit deal keeps it within the bloc's single-market customs union and other institutions only during the transition. After Dec. 31, if there's no agreement, the sides would revert to default World Trade Organization rules, under which there would be higher tariffs and barriers to the EU market.

Johnson's government said Friday it would delay full customs checks until next summer and reiterated it won't extend the transition period. It has set a progress deadline of June 30.

RELATED British gov't delays plan for full customs checks on EU goods

British industry leaders have said a trade agreement with the EU is needed, particularly at a time when businesses are already facing hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"The resilience of British business is absolutely on the floor," Carolyn Fairburn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, told BBC News.

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"The firms that I speak to have not a spare moment to plan for a no trade deal Brexit at the end of the year -- that is the common sense voice that needs to find its way into these negotiations."

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Both the EU and Britain have hardened their negotiating positions in recent weeks.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the bloc is committed to demanding that Britain adhere to a "level-playing field" in key areas like the environment, labor law, state aid and taxes.

RELATED Scotland calls for 2-year extension for Brexit transition period

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