Crunch UK-EU talks on post-Brexit ties to resume Sunday

The EU and the UK decided Saturday to press on with negotiating a post-Brexit trade deal. (File/AFP)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will speak to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday. (File/AFP)
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Updated 05 December 2020

Crunch UK-EU talks on post-Brexit ties to resume Sunday

Crunch UK-EU talks on post-Brexit ties to resume Sunday
  • “Significant differences remain,” the two leaders said in a joint statement after their call
  • While the UK left the EU on Jan. 31, it remains within the bloc’s tariff-free single market and customs union through Dec. 31

LONDON: The European Union and the United Kingdom decided Saturday to press on with negotiating a post-Brexit trade deal, with all three key issues still unresolved ahead of a year-end cutoff.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said after a phone call that their negotiators will return to the table Sunday even though fundamental differences between the two sides over the rules for fair competition, legal oversight of the deal and fishing rights for EU trawlers in UK waters.
“Significant differences remain,” the two leaders said in a joint statement after their tea-time call to assess the state of play over the future EU-UK relationship.
While the UK left the EU on Jan. 31, it remains within the bloc’s tariff-free single market and customs union through Dec. 31. Reaching a trade deal by then would ensure there are no tariffs and trade quotas on goods exported or imported by the two sides, although there would still be technical costs, partly associated with customs checks and non-tariff barriers on services.
The talks would surely have collapsed by now, were the interests and economic costs at stake not so massive. But because the EU is an economic power of 450 million and Britain has major diplomatic and security interests beyond its own commercial might, the two sides want to explore every last chance to get a deal before they become acrimonious rivals.
“Whilst recognizing the seriousness of these differences, we agreed that a further effort should be undertaken by our negotiating teams to assess whether they can be resolved,” Johnson and von der Leyen said after speaking by phone for about an hour.
“We are therefore instructing our chief negotiators to reconvene tomorrow in Brussels,” the pair said in their statement, adding that they would reassess the chances of success on Monday night.
The two leaders noted that progress has been achieved in many areas but that divisions remain on fishing rights, the “level playing field” — the standards the UK must meet to export into the bloc — and how future disputes are resolved.
“Both sides underlined that no agreement is feasible if these issues are not resolved,” von der Leyen and Johnson said Saturday.
An EU source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were still ongoing, said the fair competition rules that the UK should meet before it can export tariff-free into the 27-nation bloc, were still a major stumbling block.
The main problem at the heart of the negotiations is how to reconcile how Britain wrests itself free of EU rules and the bloc's insistence that no country, however important, should get easy access to its lucrative market by undercutting its high environmental and social standards.
The politically charged issue of fisheries also continue to play an outsized role. The EU has demanded widespread access to UK fishing grounds that historically have been open to foreign trawlers. But in Britain, gaining control of the fishing grounds was a main issue for the Brexiteers who pushed for the country to leave the EU.
With the UK’s post-Brexit transition period due to conclude at the end of the year, the discussions are clearly at a crunch point, not least because of the necessary approvals required on both sides after negotiators reach a deal. Without an agreement in place, tariffs will end up being imposed on traded goods at the start of 2021.
Both sides would suffer economically from a failure to secure a trade deal, but most economists think the British economy would take a greater hit, at least in the near-term, as it is relatively more reliant on trade with the EU than vice versa.
The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, appears ready to go again.
“Work continues tomorrow,” he said in a tweet.


US gun lobby NRA declares bankruptcy, plans to incorporate in Texas

US gun lobby NRA declares bankruptcy, plans to incorporate in Texas
Updated 4 min 58 sec ago

US gun lobby NRA declares bankruptcy, plans to incorporate in Texas

US gun lobby NRA declares bankruptcy, plans to incorporate in Texas
  • NRA execs are facing charges of illegally diverting funds for lavish personal trips and other questionable expenditures
  • New York Attorney General Letitia James said she would not allow the NRA to “evade accountability” or oversight

AUSTIN, Texas: The National Rifle Association announced Friday it has filed for bankruptcy protection and will seek to incorporate the nation’s most politically influential gun-rights group in Texas instead of New York.
The announcement came months after New York’s attorney general sued the organization over claims that top executives illegally diverted tens of millions of dollars for lavish personal trips, no-show contracts for associates and other questionable expenditures.
The coronavirus pandemic has also upended the NRA, which last year laid off dozens of employees. The group canceled its national convention and scuttled fundraising. The NRA’s bankruptcy filing listed between $100 million and $500 million in assets and between $100 million and $500 million in liabilities. Still, the NRA claimed in announcing the move that the organization was “in its strongest financial condition in years.”
The NRA filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court in Dallas and said it planned to incorporate in Texas, where records show it formed a limited liability corporation, Sea Girt LLC, in November 2020. Sea Girt LLC made a separate bankruptcy filing Friday, listing fewer than $100,000 in liabilities.
In its filing, the NRA said its longtime leader, Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, made the decision to file for bankruptcy protection in consultation with a “special litigation committee” comprised of three NRA officials that was formed in September to oversee its legal strategies. The NRA board voted Jan. 7 to clarify LaPierre’s employment agreement, giving him the power to “reorganize or restructure the affairs” of the organization.

National Rifle Association executive Wayne LaPierre and other officials of the gun lobby are facing charges of diverting the gun lobby's money for lavish personal expenses. (AFP file photo)

“The move will enable long-term, sustainable growth and ensure the NRA’s continued success as the nation’s leading advocate for constitutional freedom – free from the toxic political environment of New York,” the NRA said in a statement.
A message seeking comment was left with a Dallas lawyer who made the bankruptcy filings on behalf of the NRA and Sea Girt LLC.
Shortly after the announcement, New York Attorney General Letitia James said she would not allow the NRA to “evade accountability” or oversight. Her office’s lawsuit last year highlighted misspending and self-dealing claims that have roiled the NRA and LaPierre in recent years— from hair and makeup for his wife to a $17 million post-employment contract for himself.
“The NRA’s claimed financial status has finally met its moral status: bankrupt,” James said.
The gun-rights group boasts about 5 million members. Though headquartered in Virginia, the NRA was chartered as a nonprofit in New York in 1871 and is incorporated in the state. Going forward, the NRA said a committee will study opportunities to relocate segments of its operations to Texas and elsewhere.
The NRA’s largest creditor, owed $1.2 million, is Ackerman McQueen, which is the group’s former advertising agency that was behind the now-shuttered NRA TV service. The NRA sued the Oklahoma-based company in 2019, alleging it was being overbilled and said in Friday’s bankruptcy filing that the debt it is owed is disputed. The lawsuit is pending. A message seeking comment was left with Ackerman McQueen.
In the New York lawsuit, Ackerman McQueen was accused of aiding lavish spending by LaPierre and other NRA executives by picking up the tab and then sending a lump sum bill to the organization for “out-of-pocket expenses.”
“No financial filing can ever shroud the moral bankruptcy of Wayne LaPierre and his wife and their lap dogs on the NRA board,” said Bill Powers, an Ackerman McQueen spokesperson and former public affairs director for the NRA.
Court records also show more than $960,000 owed to Membership Marketing Partners LLC, a firm that lists its headquarters at the same address as the NRA. Another $200,000 is owed to Speedway Motorsports, the North Carolina-based company that owns and operates NASCAR tracks, according to the records.
Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott quickly welcomed the news, tweeting: “Welcome to Texas — a state that safeguards the 2nd Amendment.” The NRA said it has more than 400,000 members in Texas and plans to hold its annual convention in Houston later this year.
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Sisak reported from New York. Associated Press reporter Jake Bleiberg in Dallas contributed to this report.