Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 3 August 2020

Brexit

Barnier says Brexit deal ‘unlikely’ as two sides engage in war of words

Britain is seeking a Canada-style free trade deal and agreements on fishing rights, judicial cooperation and other areas

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. Pool via REUTERS
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. Pool via REUTERS

The EU and UK’s top Brexit negotiators engaged in a war of words on Thursday after they met to discuss a trade deal, indicating that an agreement between the two sides is still a long way off.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first formal trade discussion to have taken place in London due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking after the meeting, Michel Barnier, the EU chief Brexit negotiator, accused the UK of not showing a “willingness to break the deadlock”.

"The UK has not shown the same level of engagement and readiness to find solutions respecting the EU’s fundamental principles and interests,” he told reporters.

Mr Barnier said there had been no progress on two key points: the “level playing field” to ensure fair competition between businesses, and fisheries.

“This means simply that by its current refusal to commit to the condition of open and fair competition, and to a balanced agreement on fisheries, the UK makes a trade agreement, at this point, unlikely,” he said.

“The time for answers is quickly running out,” he warned.

Britain has only months before the transition period runs out on December 31, 2020, when the prospect of a no-deal Brexit could become a reality. But Mr Barnier insisted neither he or David Frost, his UK counterpart, had shown any signs of wanting the talks to fail.

In a statement, Mr Frost said that there were still wide rifts between the demands of the two sides.

He said the EU had listened to some British demands, such as one regarding the role of the country’s Court of Justice. The pair also had “constructive” discussions on trade in goods and services, and in some specific sectors including transport, social security cooperation, and participation in EU programmes.

But Mr Frost warned that “considerable gaps” remained in some areas, including on fishing rights.

The so-called “level playing field” is a trade policy term referring a set of common rules and standards that are used primarily to prevent businesses in one country undercutting their rivals in other countries in areas such as environmental protections and labour rights.

Both sides this week engaged in a detailed round of talks covering labour, environment, climate, sustainable development and subsidy control.

“We have made some positive progress on some of these issues but challenges remain, particularly in the area of subsidy control. We have offered a detailed, robust legal text, which builds on WTO rules. The EU needs to engage with these proposals to unlock progress,” said Mr Frost.

Britain wants a Canada-style comprehensive free trade deal and agreements on fishing rights, judicial cooperation and other areas including energy, aviation and civil nuclear cooperation.

“We remain unclear why this is so difficult for the EU, but we will continue to negotiate with this in mind,” Mr Frost said.

Mr Frost said he still hopes to reach an agreement by September, but also warned that Britain may have to face up to the possibility of a no-deal Brexit by the end of this year.

The next round of talks resume in London from August 17.

Updated: July 23, 2020 06:27 PM

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