EU: Brexit Deal Within Reach but UK Can’t ‘Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too’

October 21, 2020 Updated: October 21, 2020

With only 10 weeks to go, the European Union (EU) said on Oct. 21 that while a Brexit deal is within reach, Britain won’t be able to access the single market unless it commits to EU rules.

“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too,” said European Council President Charles Michel, reporting to the European Parliament on stalled Brexit negotiations.

“Time is very short and we stand ready to negotiate 24/7, on all subjects, based on legal texts,” he told the European Parliament on Oct. 21.

“The UK has a bit of a decision to make and it’s their free and sovereign choice.”

Charles Michel
European Council President Charles Michel reports on last week’s European summit during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels on Oct. 21, 2020. (Olivier Hoslet/Pool via Reuters)

London meanwhile has refused to continue full negotiations, saying the EU must “fundamentally change” its stance.

The EU and Britain both urged each other this week to compromise to avoid a disruptive finale to the five-year Brexit drama that would add to economic pain from the CCP virus crisis.

The EU sees this as a bluff by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but has also extended an olive branch by talking up UK sovereignty, as well as the EU’s openness to discuss intensively, across the board, and on specific legal texts.

A spokesman for Britain said London noted “with interest” EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier’s comments that an agreement is still within reach.

They touch “in a significant way on the issues behind the current difficulties in our talks,” the spokesman added.

Michel said the EU council of 27 members were “100 percent united,” and though they wanted “fair play” and a “fair and balanced” outcome, they were nevertheless ready for a no-deal scenario.

He said the three “extremely difficult” unresolved issues were economic safeguards, fishing rights, and how to settle trade disputes.

‘Independent Arbitration’

He called for a “binding, independent arbitration” to redress market distortions, adding that London’s draft new Internal Market Bill—which, if adopted, would undermine Britain’s earlier divorce deal with the EU—only strengthened the EU’s resolve to ensure tight policing of any new deal.

Meanwhile, Britain following the breakdown of Brexit talks on Oct.15 announced its “Time is running out” campaign on Oct. 18 to tell businesses to urgently prepare for a no-deal scenario when the country leaves the EU’s single market and customs union.

British CCP virus-hit businesses, however, late last week called for a “pragmatic approach” to Brexit negotiations.

In a joint statement published on the Confederation of British Industry (CBI)’s website on Oct. 18,  71 British business chiefs called on both sides to reach a deal.

“Now is the time for historic political leadership,” the joint statement said.

“With compromise and tenacity, a deal can be done. Businesses call on leaders on both sides to find a route through.”

In the transition period since leaving the EU, European rules have continued to be applicable for Britain and will continue to be so until Dec. 31. If no trade deal with the EU is reached by then, Britain would by default need to trade under what Johnson has dubbed “Australia-style” World Trade Organization rules.

Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost were scheduled to talk on the phone at 2 p.m. on Oct. 21.

Reuters contributed to this report.