UK and EU close to breakthrough on benefits as Brexit talks resume in London

James Crisp
·3-min read
Boris Johnson with Ursula von der Leyen in January. The Prime Minister was urged to ring round EU leaders to roll the pitch for a trade deal. - AFP
Boris Johnson with Ursula von der Leyen in January. The Prime Minister was urged to ring round EU leaders to roll the pitch for a trade deal. - AFP

UK and EU negotiators are close to clinching a deal on social security rights for their citizens, it emerged on Tuesday before the two sides meet in London for crunch trade talks.

Brussels accepted nine out of ten UK proposals to protect rights such as death grants and benefits for accidents at work in the ninth negotiating round in Brussels, two diplomatic sources said. 

The tenth proposal is that EU citizens to pay a surcharge over five years for healthcare access for family members but Brussels says Britain should reciprocate the open access it offers.

There is still no breakthrough on the major obstacles of the level playing field guarantees,fishing rights and the enforcement and dispute resolution system for the future trading relationship

The UK and EU have agreed to intensify talks in an effort to agree a trade deal by Mr Johnson’s deadline of the October 15 EU summit.

Boris Johnson needs to pick up the phone to European leaders if he is serious about salvaging a free trade deal with Brussels, EU diplomatic sources warned. 

Mr Johnson should be in regular contact with leaders such as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, diplomats in Brussels said.  - Getty Images Europe 
Mr Johnson should be in regular contact with leaders such as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, diplomats in Brussels said. - Getty Images Europe

Brussels is not planning to offer any concessions in the next eight days and is willing to let talks stretch into November. 

Negotiations could even drag into December or fail completely, unless Mr Johnson stopped being so “detached” and "absent", they said. 

“Is he even interested? What does it say to the 27 leaders when an issue as important as this is only dealt with by David Frost [the UK’s chief negotiator]?,” said a senior EU diplomat.

“It’s about time people higher up in the hierarchy start involving themselves if they want to achieve something.”

The diplomat said former prime minister Theresa May was “always” on the phone to fellow leaders such as Angela Merkel.

UK sources said it was the EU’s rule that Michel Barnier negotiated on behalf of the whole bloc. It was up to Brussels to ensure British positions were communicated to the capitals.  

Leaked EU documents said that there was “no significant progress” in the talks and the European Commission would “shortly” bring forward no-deal legislation.

Governments have become so pessimistic that at least one member state has already begun war-gaming post no-deal Brexit negotiations.

The senior EU diplomat warned that “substantial movement” was needed on the level playing field and the governance structure enforcing the new trading relationship. A deal on fishing would be less difficult, the diplomat said

It was possible that the UK-EU trade deal would only be agreed after the economic shock of no deal on January 1 concentrated minds, the diplomat warned.

The Prime Minister's spokesman admitted there was a "significant" amount of work to do in the talks, which close on Friday before resuming in Brussels next week.  

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