19:38 GMT04 March 2021
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    In another blow at Theresa May's beleaguered Brexit white paper, the EU's chief negotiator called it "unacceptable" for the bloc when he met with British MPs. Germans are reportedly preparing for a no-deal Brexit by hiring new customs staff as the talks are deadlocked on the issues of Irish border and trade policy.

    EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier "made clear" that Theresa May's soft Brexit proposal wasn't acceptable for the European Commission, a Tory MP who met with Barnier in Brussels told the UK-based talk radio station LBC on Tuesday.

    Brussels Turns Its Back on May's Plan

    John Whittingdale, who sits on the cross-party Brexit select committee, said that Michel Barnier had proposed a Canada-style agreement with Britain. "What he did come forward with was an alternative which he was working on — which was based upon a free trade agreement such as the one signed with Canada, but with the agreement that we would continue to cooperate on security matters and a mutual recognition of standards."

    Whittingdale went on to claim that the Chequers deal appears to have very few supporters outside the cabinet. When asked whether he would call the proposal "dead," he replied, "On the basis of what I've heard today, yes."

    Declining Support

    This is not far from reality, according to a new poll by Sky Data, which claims that roughly 52 percent of Britons disapprove of Theresa May's proposal. As few as 18 percent of respondents approve of the deal, while 30 percent answer don't know.

    READ MORE: Over 2.5 Million Brits Abandon Support for Brexit Amid Prospect of No-Deal

    It also emerged that Germany has begun preparations for a no-deal scenario. "The government is preparing for all possibilities related to (Britain's) exit," a spokeswoman for the Federal Ministry of Finance told Stuttgarter Zeitung. "This includes eventual legislative measures but also the hiring and training of additional staff, such in customs."

    London and Brussels have sped up the pace of negotiations in a bid to reach a Brexit agreement before Britain's looming departure from the bloc on March 29 next year. The talks remain stalled on two key points: an Irish border and post-Brexit trade and customs arrangements.

    Running Out of Time

    Brussels offered May to go with the so-called "backstop" plan that would keep Northern Ireland in the single market and set up a hard border between the region and the rest of the UK, which she turned down as "unworkable", citing constitutional integrity concerns.

    Another stumbling block is trade policy: under the Chequers proposal, London and Brussels would set up a free trade area, based on a "common rulebook" that will see both parties adopt the same standards on goods and which would spare the need for customs and regulatory border checks. At the same time, May wants London to have its own trade policy outside the customs union; the EU has rejected the idea amid concerns that it would undermine the European single market.

    The clock is ticking for the parties as the UK leaving the bloc without a trade deal would see the EU and UK trade on bare WTO terms, which, according to an IMF report dated July, would reduce European GDP by up to 1.5 percent and bring even greater economic losses to the UK.


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    Chequers, EU single market, border, Brexit, European Union, Michel Barnier, John Whittingdale, Theresa May, United Kingdom
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