In Brief

France vs. Germany rift revealed as row over Brexit deal concessions intensifies

Conflict between EU power brokers triggered during Michel Barnier’s Covid isolation

"The Brexit talks suffered a serious setback after France and Germany clashed over concessions offered by the EU to the UK during negotiations conducted by a stand-in for the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, it has emerged."

After Barnier was forced to self-isolate after being exposed to Covid-19,  European Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen “tightened her grip on the negotiations” by sending Stephanie Riso, her deputy chief of staff, to run the talks, according to The Times.

Riso and the UK team reportedly then “began to make real progress - so much so that alarm bells rang in Paris and some other capitals”.

An EU official told the newspaper that Barnier was so unhappy with the direction the talks were talking that he contacted EU ambassadors to “guide” member states to issues on which he thought too many concessions had been made.

“He raised flags,” the source said. “It was masterful and subtle but everyone was aware that Barnier himself was not happy with the Von der Leyen and Riso approach of getting a deal ‘whatever’ it takes.” 

Indeed, his intervention set the scene for a confrontation between two of the bloc’s most powerful players. 

Philippe Leglise-Costa, the French permanent representative to the EU, “led the charge with claims that Germany was working hand-in-glove” with Von der Leyen and making too many concessions on unresolved issues such as fishing and the “level playing field” in order to secure a future trade deal. 

In response, Germany’s ambassador, Michael Clauss, hit back at France and its allies for being “too jittery”.

Emmanuel Macron has been increasingly bullish in recent weeks, saying he will veto a deal if it does not satisfy Paris. But the newly revealed dispute with Germany exposes disagreements at the heart of the bloc as negotiators enter the final days and weeks of talks.

Boris Johnson is meeting with von der Leyen in Brussels today “in an 11th-hour attempt to break the impasse in the Brexit negotiations”, The Guardian reports. However, “both EU and UK officials said there was no certainly there was no certainty that a historic trade and security deal would be secured when the leaders meet”, the paper adds.

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