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EU warns UK ahead of more post-Brexit trade talks

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Brussels: The European Union warned the British government on Monday not to renege on commitments made ahead of its departure from the bloc earlier this year.

Amid growing signs that trust between the two sides is evaporating ahead of another round of post-Brexit talks in London on Tuesday, the bloc said any attempt by the British government to unilaterally ride roughshod over the divorce agreement could jeopardise the hard-won peace process on the island of Ireland, as well as the prospects for a trade deal.

Ursuala von der Leyen, president of the EU’s executive commission, said she expected Boris Johnson’s government to implement the withdrawal agreement that paved the way for the UK’s smooth departure from the bloc on January 31.

She said in a tweet that the agreement was an “obligation under international law” and a “prerequisite for any future partnership.”

She added that the section in the agreement that ensures an open border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and EU member Ireland, is “essential to protect peace and stability on the island” as well as for the “integrity” of the EU’s tariff-free and frictionless single market.

Her comments followed a report in the Financial Times newspaper that the British government is planning domestic legislation that would effectively override the international treaty obligations enshrined within the withdrawal agreement, particularly over issues related to the Irish border.

The report prompted widespread selling of the British pound as traders price in a growing likelihood that the trade talks could be heading for collapse.

The EU’s chief negotiator in the talks, Michel Barnier, also said Monday that he will be seeking clarification from David Frost, his counterpart in the UK, on Tuesday “to better understand the government’s intentions.”

As well as allowing for the UK’s smooth departure from the EU, the divorce deal allowed for a transition period through to the end of this year, during which the two sides are meant to sort out a trade agreement for the future. During this period, the UK remains within the EU’s economic orbit, benefiting from frictionless and tariff-free trade.

“This protocol is a condition for preserving peace and for protecting the integrity of the single market,” Barnier told French radio France Inter.

“It’s also a pre-condition for confidence between us because everything that has been signed in the past must be respected.” Johnson is talking tough ahead of the negotiations.                In remarks released in advance by his office, he is expected to say later Monday that Britain could walk away from the talks within weeks and insist that a no-deal exit would be a “good outcome for the UK”

He is also set to say that an agreement must be sealed by an EU summit scheduled for October 15.

Barnier and the trade committee at the European Parliament, which must also endorse any agreement, insist that the negotiations must conclude before the end of October.

Britain’s environment secretary, George Eustice, sought to downplay concerns that the government is seeking to tear up its treaty obligations and argued that the Internal Market Bill, due to be published Wednesday, aims to to tie up some “loose ends” where there was a need for “legal certainty.”

He insisted that the government remained committed to the principles of the deal, which will see customs checks on some goods moving from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland.

“What we are talking about here is what type of administrative customs processes you might have for goods that might be at risk of entering the EU single market,” he told BBC radio.

Were the UK to walk away from the talks, the two sides would be heading towards a “no-deal” outcome that would see tariffs and other impediments to trade imposed at the start of the year.

Whatever the motivation behind the latest UK government moves, financial markets have been clear in their response. The pound is down sharply, falling 0.7 per cent against both the euro and the dollar.

Kallum Pickering, senior economist at Berenberg Bank, said the costs of a failure to agree a trade deal would fall “disproportionately” on the UK economy and could tip it back into recession in early 2021 while temporarily slowing the EU recovery.

“For the UK and the EU to find compromises on the sticking points, both sides must work to build trust,” he said.

“The UK’s actions are doing the opposite.” The trade discussions have made very little progress over the summer, with the two sides seemingly wide apart on several issues, notably on business regulations, the extent to which the UK can supports industries and over the EU’s access to British waters.(AP)

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