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Trade minister Franck Riester believes Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pursuing a “bluffing strategy” over his threat to walk away from the trade talks without an agreement. Despite the tensions, the Frenchman insisted a Brexit deal is still possible if both sides can reach a consensus on the so-called “level playing field” and access to the UK’s fishing grounds. Paris is adamant it won’t rubber-stamp a future relationship until it receives guarantees Downing Street won’t slash state subsidies, environmental and workers’ rights regulations to make British companies more competitive against their continental rivals.
“There’s a game of bluff going on,” Mr Riester told the FT.
“We’ll try to stay calm and serene but firmly behind the line of the EU27… In any deal, in the end there is a compromise that can come into play.
“But that is unattainable for the moment because the UK is not moving on the essential matter, which is the ability to ensure that trade is fair.”
Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost and the EU’s Michel Barnier are meeting today for the eighth round of negotiations.
Their relationship has been strained after it was confirmed Mr Johnson is prepared to break international law to ensure a smooth Brexit.
Ireland’s deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar branded the move “kamikaze” and insisted it had “backfired”.
Mr Varadkar played an influential role in the renegotiations to scrap the controversial Northern Ireland backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement last year.
He insisted Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis’ confirmation the Government’s Internal Market Bill will breach the divorce deal with the bloc “in a very specific and limited way” would set alarm bells ringing in Dublin.
“I don’t think there can be an free-trade agreement in circumstances where the UK is not honouring the Withdrawal Agreement,” Mr Varadkar said.
“This issue would not arise if we had a free-trade agreement if there was an agreement between the EU and the UK that we would have quota free tariff free trade this problem would go away so I guess that could be what they’re playing at but I don’t think it’s a good strategy on their part at all.”
Irish premier Micheal Martin added: “Any negotiation process can only proceed on the basis of trust.
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“When one party to a negotiation decides that they can change what’s already agreed and incorporated into law, it really undermines trust.
“This is a critical time in the Brexit process and the stakes are very high.”
Lord Frost has insisted progress must be made this week if Britain and the EU are to reach a deal by October 15, when European leaders hold a summit in Brussels.
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He said: “We must make progress this week if we are to reach an agreement in time.
“We have now been talking for six months and can no longer afford to go over well-trodden ground.
“We need to see more realism from the EU about our status as an independent country.”
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