Brexit trade talks have produced little progress as both the EU and UK refuse to budge – but one economist warned that the bloc’s negotiator is “petrified” of UK success.
Government sources have said this week that the EU’s approach to trade talks has resulted in “paralysis”. Brexit negotiations have stalled in recent months over two key issues – fisheries and regulatory alignment. Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to fulfil a Leave campaign promise that the UK will take back control of its waters post-Brexit. Previously, EU vessels had free access to British fishing grounds, leaving many fishermen in the UK aggrieved.
However, the EU’s chief negotiator – Michel Barnier – has warned Mr Johnson he cannot secure access to European markets without allowing EU vessels into UK waters.
The UK is also looking to avoid EU regulations – giving the country more freedom to set its own laws on trading standards.
A Government source said this week: “The particular way the EU insisted on parallelism led to paralysis. Obviously everything needs to be up for discussion, but it makes no sense to have everything going at the speed of the most difficult issues.
“Now they need to adapt their approach to make sure talks throughout the summer don’t suffer from unnecessary roadblocks.”
And one economist warned in February that Michel Barnier’s “unreasonable demands” would result in deadlock.
Writing in the Telegraph, Liam Halligan said: “EU bureaucrats, meanwhile, show little interest in securing a mutually beneficial FTA.
“Brussels’ priority is to shield the bloc from competition, while discouraging others from following the UK out the door.
“Britain wants a Canada-style FTA with no regulatory ‘level playing field’.
“In 2017, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier produced a chart showing that was the likely end point, adding that a ‘bespoke’ deal was ‘a non-starter’.
“Now Barnier insists a Canada deal is unavailable’ and any UK-EU deal must be “unique” – a total volte-face. “
Mr Halligan also claimed that the reason talks could be stalling is the fear in Brussels that the UK may succeed post-Brexit.
He added: “Brussels is petrified that outside the EU’s regulatory orbit, a more nimble Britain will thrive, enticing others to leave.
“But Barnier’s attempts to keep the UK ensnared in EU red tape have become unreasonable, and go against the EU’s legal duty to maintain good relations with its neighbours.”
A similar warning was issued by Conservative Brexiteer Andrew Bridgen, who told Express.co.uk that Mr Barnier was concerned about the free trade deals the UK could now strike with other countries around the world.
He even predicted that the UK – alongside its new trading allies – would replace the EU as the biggest trading partner.
He said: “If we join the Trans Pacific Partnership, it will be a bigger trading bloc than the EU.
“And they aren’t asking to take our fish or be governed by their laws and courts.”