Brexit row erupts after Michel Barnier accuses UK of planning to ditch human rights commitment
A row has erupted after the EU's chief Brexit negotiator accused the UK of planning to ditch its commitment to human rights.
Michel Barnier said Britain had refused "to commit formally to continuing to apply" the European Convention on Human Rights after it quits the EU.
But hitting back, Downing Street insisted it still backed the ECHR, but that it should play no part in the Brexit negotiations.
The dispute emerged after Mr Barnier admitted there were "serious divergences" between Brussels and London following initial trade talks.
He said: "The UK informs us they do not wish to commit formally to continuing to apply the ECHR, nor do they wish the ECJ (European Court of Justice) to play its full role in interpreting European law."
The veteran EU official added: "If the UK position does not move it will have an immediate and concrete effect on the level of ambition of our cooperation."
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said the UK would not be ditching its commitment to the ECHR, but insisted it was completely separate to the Brexit negotiations.
He said: "The UK is committed to the European Convention on Human Rights and to protecting human rights and championing them at home and abroad.
"But we believe that this does not require an additional binding international legal commitment. How the UK gives effect to its long-standing, strong human rights protections is a matter for the UK as an autonomous country.
"In the same way, it's a matter for the EU and its member states to give effect to their own human rights protections according to their own legal orders."
The dispute came as the differences between both sides on key areas like fisheries were laid bare.
Britain has warned it is prepared to walk away from the negotiations in June unless clear progress is being made in the negotiations.
Mr Barnier said: "To be completely frank with you…there are many divergences, and they are very serious divergences which is probably quite natural after a first round of negotiations."
A spokesperson for the Government said they were "pleased with the constructive tone from both sides that has characterised these talks".
But they added: "These are going to be tough negotiations – this is just the first round. In some areas there seems to be a degree of common understanding of how to take the talks forward. In other areas, such as fishing, governance, criminal justice and the so-called ‘level playing field’ issues there are, as expected, significant differences.
"The UK team made clear that, on 1 January 2021, we would regain our legal and economic independence – and that the future relationship must reflect that fact.
“We look forward to continuing these talks in the same constructive spirit when the parties meet again in London on 18 March."