11:23 GMT09 April 2020
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    MOSCOW (Sputnik) - The next stage of talks between the European Union and the United Kingdom to work towards reaching a free trade deal will begin next Monday after EU leaders agreed on a mandate for negotiating a future relationship with the UK at the General Affairs Council, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said.

    “So we’re ready, we’re ready to start this new stage in negotiations following Brexit. We’re ready to start on Monday afternoon, these negotiations with the British team led by David Frost. Meetings will take place Monday afternoon, Tuesday, and Wednesday with the conclusion of this first round on Thursday. Then after the first round in Brussels, later in March, we’ll have a second round in London, and so on we will alternate between the UK and Brussels,” Barnier stated.

    The EU’s chief negotiator with London made reference to an article published in the Financial Times, which cited a Downing Street spokesman who said that the upcoming negotiations are about ensuring the UK’s sovereignty. Barnier stated that the UK was already economically and politically independent after leaving the EU on January 31.

    “The economic and political independence of the UK does not need to be negotiated on, it has been done, it has been achieved, that’s what Brexit has achieved. It was the will of the UK and they have left, nobody’s going to discuss the sovereignty, the independence, or the autonomy of the UK, that’s not the purpose of these negotiations,” Barnier said.

    He also addressed reports that London is seeking to avoid the implementation of several terms of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. The Sunday Times newspaper reported this past weekend that the UK’s leading negotiator with the EU David Frost is attempting to find a way around proposed EU customs checks on goods entering Northern Ireland.

    “Everything already decided by the British must be respected, and I’m thinking in particular … of the withdrawal agreement, in all its dimensions, and in particular, how it is to be rigorously and operationally implemented in respect of the protocol, which guarantees stability and peace in Ireland and respect of the single market,” Barnier stated.

    In order to monitor the implementation of the terms of the withdrawal agreement, Barnier announced that the EU will establish a joint committee. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has chosen Maros Sefcovic, a vice-president of the commission, to lead the committee, which should be in operation by the end of March, Barnier remarked.

    Despite the ongoing disagreements between Brussels and London, the EU’s lead Brexit negotiator reiterated that the EU will do nothing to undermine peace in Ireland. Barnier added that he was committed to building an amicable and positive relationship with the UK.

    However, Barnier stated that there was only a limited time in which to conclude all the necessary bilateral agreements before the transition period ends on December 31.

    “We’re not going to be able to do everything in 10 months. We need to lay down the foundations for the future relationship in the months to come, and I am confident that we will be able to achieve this if there is goodwill on both sides,” Barnier remarked.

    The United Kingdom left the European Union on January 31, after more than three years of negotiations. A transition period is currently in force that gives London and Brussels time to conclude a number of agreements, the most important of which is a free trade deal. The transition period ends on December 31.

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