EU wants Brexit deal 'but not at any price' as teams head for dinner

LONDON (Reuters) - Top British and EU negotiators will dine at Number 10 Downing Street on Tuesday, kicking off the latest round of Brexit talks that have all but stalled amid differences, with the top EU official saying he wants an agreement, “but not at any price”.

FILE PHOTO: European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and British Prime Minister's Europe adviser David Frost 5 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

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 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 insisted it should not have to sign up to the bloc’s standards.

Brussels has also stood firm, with EU negotiator Michel Barnier posting a picture of himself and his team travelling on a train to London on Tuesday and saying: “The EU wants an agreement - and we are doing everything to succeed - but not at any price.”

Brussels has said there can be no new economic partnership without robust guarantees to ensure fair competition.

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“(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.”

The pound shrugged off earlier weakness and climbed 0.3% on the day to $1.2529, with analysts terming the dinner as a sign of potential positive news for Brexit negotiations.

With a starter of asparagus and a dessert of summer fruits, Downing Street might be hoping to sweeten the talks, although the main course of fillet of halibut might be a nod to another stumbling block in the talks over fisheries.

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

Reporting by Elizabeth Piper, additional reportng by Gabriela Baczynska and Saikat Chatterjee, Editing by Alistair Smout, Giles Elgood and Nick Macfie