Private dinner kicks off latest Brexit talks between Britain, EU

FILE PHOTO: European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and British Prime Minister's Europe adviser David Frost are seen at start of the first round of post -Brexit trade deal talks between the EU and the United Kingdom, in Brussels, Belgium March 2, 2020. Oliver Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Britain’s and the European Union’s chief negotiators will dine at Number 10 Downing Street later on Tuesday, kicking off the latest round of Brexit talks that have all but stalled over major differences over their future relationship.

Last week’s round was cut short with both sides saying that, while they wanted an agreement, they had yet to overcome the gulf in positions that could see Britain leaving a status-quo transition period at the end of this year without a free trade deal.

After leaving the EU in January, Britain is keen to strike out alone, pursuing trade deals with other countries and setting up its own sanctions regime, and has stuck to its position that it should not have to sign up to the bloc’s standards.

Brussels has also stood firm, with EU negotiator Michel Barnier saying last week there could be no economic partnership without “robust guarantees for a level playing field – including on state aid – to ensure open and fair competition”.

“(UK negotiator) David Frost and Michel Barnier are having dinner at Number 10 this evening for informal talks,” said a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“The dinner tonight kicks off the talks and then tomorrow there’ll be teams of officials from the UK and from the EU sitting down having further discussions.”

Asked whether Britain had new proposals for what have been described as informal talks, the spokesman said: “I am sure discussions will cover everything from what the EU calls the level playing field through to governance structures.”

Some businesses fear that, with the two sides so far apart and little time left to negotiate, a so-called no-deal Brexit could hurt the economy at the exact time when the coronavirus crisis is already taking its toll on companies.