EU unity crumbling: Merkel orders Brussels members to stop panicking over Brexit standoff

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Speaking at an online event today, the German Chancellor urged “impatient” European capitals to support their chief negotiator to broker an acceptable trade-off for post-Brexit fishing rights and state aid rules. The veteran leader also empathised European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen’s growing influence as Berlin’s dealmaker in the wrangling over a future EU-UK trade and security deal.  Mrs Merkel hinted her former defence minister’s intervention would help deliver a “positive conclusion” in the talks.

The Chancellor said: “Michel Barnier has been negotiating and Ursula von der Leyen has been increasingly involved in the negotiating process so we do hope that we’ll get a positive conclusion to this.

“Some member states are now becoming impatient. There’s not much time left. Governance, level playing field play a large role. Perhaps for some the most tangible are concrete questions, from the British point of view access to energy markets, from our view access to British fishing grounds.”

Mrs von der Leyen has deployed key aide Stephanie Riso to London with the bloc’s chief negotiator to oversee the final compromises.

Ms Riso was an influential member of Mr Barnier’s team during the Brexit divorce talks before being scooped up to become one Commission’s most senior advisers.

Brussels sources have praised her inclusion in the EU’s negotiating team for the final rounds of trade talks with Britain.

They see Ms Riso as a trusted dealmaker with the backing of Mrs Merkel and other influential leaders across the bloc.

Mrs Merkel said failing to secure a Brexit trade deal would be a “poor example” for both Brussels and Britain.

She said: “We share the same values – it would be a rather poor example for the rest of the world if we couldn’t obtain an agreement.

“People are calling more and more energetically for contingency measures. I’d like to wait as long as possible before we introduce contingency measures.

“I think we should really put all of our efforts into the last step and the last phase of the negotiations in hopes of reaching a negotiated agreement.”

The European Commission is under pressure from member states, led by France, Belgium and the Netherlands, to draw up plans to maintain vital rail, road and air transport links with Britain if an agreement isn’t in place before the end of the year.

Mr Barnier’s spokesman said the EU is focused on the trade talks but will be ready to roll out emergency measures in time for January 1.

He said: ” If contingency measures are needed, they would be limited and tailored to the existing very specific circumstances and would be adopted in time to ensure that we are fully prepared for January 1.”

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said the outline of a Brexit trade deal agreement could emerge this week.

He said: “I do think a deal is possible but it needs to be finalised this week if possible because we really are running out of time. 

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“A deal is possible because the consequences of no deal are so costly and so disruptive. There’s a big incentive to get a deal done.”

But Mr Coveney hit out at Boris Johnson for putting a squeeze on the EU by refusing to extend the trade talks into next year.

The Irish minister said: “The British Government was offered a much longer transition period and they turned it down yet they’re now blaming the EU for it. That’s just ridiculous. 

“They were very clear that they didn’t want any more time despite the fact the EU was asking them to ask for it. The decision on the timelines is very much a British Government decision, not an EU one.”

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The French government was today refusing to drop its demand for near-parity access to Britain’s coastal waters for its country’s fishermen.

Europe minister Clement Beaune insisted the two sides were “still very far from agreement” on the Brexit trade deal.

Speaking to reporters in Madrid, he said: “Our fishermen are no less important than theirs and they didn’t have the right to vote in the referendum.

“There can be no agreement unless there is one that gives sustainable and wide-ranging access to British waters.”

Mr Beaune insisted Britain should not be allowed to “lay down the law” when it comes to deciding future fishing opportunities in its coastal waters.

“Our terms are known, they are not new,” he added.

France will “try again” to reassert itself on the negotiations with Britain to secure a good deal for its fishing industry.

“We have a bit of time left but still a long way to go and if the UK believes that limited time left works in its favour as it has in the past few years, that is not the case.”

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