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Brexit deadlock: first face-to-face talks in months end with ‘significant divergences’

David Frost and Michel Barnier gave a downbeat assessment of the state of the talks. (PA)

3 min read

The latest round of talks on Britain’s post-Brexit relationship with the European Union have ended with “significant divergences” between the two sides.

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said its positions needed “to be better understood and respected” to strike an agreement, while his UK counterpart David Frost said the talks had “underlined the significant differences that still remain”.

The downbeat assessment of the first face-to-face talks since the coronavirus pandemic struck comes amid an ongoing deadlock between the two sides on a host of areas.

Britain and the EU remain at an impasse on key issues including access to the UK's fishing waters, cross-border law enforcement, and the bloc’s demand for a host of “level-playing field” commitments on rights and standards.

The UK Government has meanwhile rejected the prospect of any extension to the current transition period which keeps it broadly aligned to EU rules, meaning the UK will leave the single market on 31 December if an agreement is not reached.

Boris Johnson has said he believes there is “no reason” why the outline of a deal should not be “done in July” — and has warned against negotiations “going on until the Autumn”.

But, in a fresh statement on Thursday, Mr Barnier signalled that the latest talks had failed to “inject new dynamics”.

“Our goal was to get negotiations successfully and quickly on a trajectory to reach an agreement,” the EU chief negotiator said.

“However, after four days of discussions, serious divergences remain.”

He added: “The EU side had listened carefully to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's statements in recent weeks, in particular, his request to reach a political agreement quickly, and his red lines: no role for the European Court of Justice in the UK; no obligation for the UK to continue to be bound by EU law; and an agreement on fisheries that shows Brexit makes a real difference.”

But Mr Barnier said: “The EU's position remains, based on the Political Declaration, that there will be no economic partnership without robust guarantees for a level playing field – including on state aid – to ensure open and fair competition among our businesses; a balanced, sustainable and long-term solution for our European fishermen and women; an overarching institutional framework and effective dispute settlement mechanisms.”

He added: “The EU expects, in turn, its positions to be better understood and respected in order to reach an agreement. We need an equivalent engagement by the United Kingdom.”

Speaking for the UK side, Mr Frost said the latest round of discussions had been given “extra depth and flexibility” by being held in person after months of video-conferencing.

However, he added: “The negotiations have been comprehensive and useful. But they have also underlined the significant differences that still remain between us on a number of important issues.”

Mr Frost  was this week confirmed as the Prime Minister’s next national security adviser from August, in a move seen as stressing the need for urgency in the talks.

He said: “We remain committed to working hard to find an early understanding on the principles underlying an agreement out of the intensified talks process during July, as agreed at the HLM [high level meeting between Boris Johnson and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen] on 15 June.
“Talks will continue next week in London as agreed in the revised terms of reference published on 12 June.”

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