UK Chief Brexit negotiator David Frost has issued a stark warning to Michel Barnier that Brussels‘ excessive demands risk scuppering any chances of a post-Brexit trade deal.
Boris Johnson’s army of officials ignored desperate pleas from the EU’s chief negotiator to delay trade talks after little progress was made in this week’s round of virtual negotiations. The bloc accused the Prime Minister’s negotiator of deliberately refusing to engage in efforts to reach fisheries pact. But No10 immediately hit back and said EU officials were not showing the flexibility required to seal a deal before the transition period expires at the end of the year.
A UK Government spokesman said: “Our assessment is that there was some promising convergence in the core areas of a Free Trade Agreement, for example on goods and services trade, and related issues such as energy, transport, and civil nuclear cooperation.
“We regret however that the detail of the EU’s offer on goods trade falls well short of recent precedent in FTAs it has agreed with other sovereign countries.
“This considerably reduces the practical value of the zero tariff zero quota aspiration we both share.”
Britain is pushing for a free-trade agreement like Canada has with the bloc.
Despite the row, Mr Frost and Mr Barnier believe both sides can still reach a deal with two more week-long negotiating rounds scheduled for May and June.
But in a swipe at the UK’s negotiating position, Mr Barnier said: “The UK cannot refuse to extend the position and at the same time, slow down discussions on important areas.
“The UK cannot impose this short, brief timeline, and at the same time not budget to make progress on the topics that are of importance to the EU.”
Brussels is still calling for continued access to Britain’s fishing waters and for a regulatory level-playing field to be agreed as part of any deal.
Mr Barnier said the UK’s refusal to engage on a new fishing relationship could end all hope of a deal.
He said: “The EU will not agree any future economic partnership that does not include a balanced, sustainable and long-term solution on fisheries – that is crystal clear.”
And on security, the Frenchman warned the agreement would be “seriously limited” by the Government’s demands.
He said: “The UK refuses to provide firm guarantees rather than vague principles on fundamental rights and individual freedoms.”
The EU negotiator also used a press conference after the end of the trade talks to urge both sides to reach a “smart agreement to cushion the shock” of the coronavirus pandemic on their economies.
Brussels officials have voiced their frustrations at their British counterparts’ willingness to move towards a deal beforehand.
One senior EU official fumed: “You can call it selective, you can call it cherry-picking but they only ready to make progress in the areas where they have an interest.
“We don’t need to agree everything by June but we need to make progress on all areas. For the moment, the British are only ready to discuss where they are interested and politely listen to us present our texts for other areas.”
The source hinted that Mr Frost’s team are seeking to end the negotiations without agreements in several areas.
“They don’t engage in some of the areas where they don’t have an interest to reach an agreement,” they said.
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