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France preparing for a no-deal Brexit amid London trade talks

The risk of a no-deal Brexit “exists” and “we must prepare for it”, French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, said on Friday.

With just three weeks to go until the UK leaves the EU, there’s rising concern on the continent about a no-deal becoming the reality.

European negotiator Michel Barnier has been in London since the start of the week. He will stay there on Friday for final discussions in the hope of reaching an agreement before the end of the weekend – if not, the EU believes that a treaty cannot be ratified in time by the MEPs.

“There is very little time left. We are at a difficult time in negotiations,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman told reporters on Friday afternoon, warning that London did not intend to accept “an agreement which does not respect fundamental principles of sovereignty.”

Three points still block the conclusion of an agreement:

  • Fishing rights for Europeans fishermen in British waters.
  • Guarantees demanded by London in terms of competition.
  • How disputes will be settled in the future agreement.

France has threatened to veto the post-Brexit trade deal, which London and Brussels are working hard to conclude in the coming days.

“If there was an agreement that was not good, we would oppose it,” Beaune said on French radio station Europe 1. “Every country has the right of veto,” he warned.

“We owe it to the French, we owe it to our fishermen and to other economic sectors,” he added.

This pressure on the negotiations reflects the growing concern by France for seeing the EU granting too many concessions to the UK, in order to avoid a no-deal scenario on December 31.

‘We will hold out until the last moment’ says Germany

On the contrary, Germany, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU and the European Commission, is seeking an agreement “at all costs”.

“We will hold out until the last moment, the last second of this process to guarantee unity between us,” European Council President Charles Michel assured on Friday.

“We will see in the next few hours or days what the next steps will be,” he added, explaining that the Commission would first present the result of the talks before member states take a position, which will depend on “what is on the table”.

A European summit bringing together the leaders of the 27 states in person is scheduled for 10 December in Brussels.

A no-deal scenario

Without an agreement to govern their relationship on January 1, the UK and the EU will trade under World Trade Organisation rules. Synonymous with tariffs or quotas, this runs the risk of another economic shock adding to that of the coronavirus pandemic.

Barnier was set to make an update with the member states later on Friday afternoon, but this intervention seemed unlikely by the middle of the day.

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