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Mon, 30 November 2020

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EU accuses Britain of showing no ‘willingness’ to compromise as latest Brexit talks end in deadlock

EU accuses Britain of showing no ‘willingness’ to compromise as latest Brexit talks end in deadlock
5 min read

The European Union has accused Britain of showing no “willingness to take on board the EU's priorities” as the latest round of post-Brexit talks ended without a breakthrough.

The bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said there was "nothing surprising whatsoever about the EU's priorities" in the negotiations, which remain stuck on key issues including access to the UK’s fishing waters, state aid rules and a so-called ‘level playing field’ on environmental and social standards.

Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost meanwhile signalled his own frustration with the discussions as he urged Brussels to accept the “reality” of the UK’s position.

The UK is pushing for any agreement to respect its regulatory autonomy and status as an independent coastal state now it has left the EU.

But Brussels has been adamant that any deal cannot see Britain undercut its environmental and worker standards or state aid rules. 

Failure to strike a deal, which the EU wants done by October, would leave the two sides trading on World Trade Organisation terms, imposing a host of tariffs and quotas once the current transition period covering their relationship expires at the end of this year.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Mr Barnier said the EU was focused on "protecting thousands of jobs in our member states”.

He said of the impasse: “It’s about workers' rights, it's about consumer rights, it's about health and protecting our environment".

And he warned a deal now seems “unlikely” as he revealed that the EU will begin a "virtual tour" of member states to get them ready for a no-deal outcome.

Mr Barnier said the UK and EU negotiators have made "no progress whatsoever" on the issue of fisheries, where the bloc is seeking similar access to British waters for its member states’ fishing fleets to the current status quo.

He said: "We hear the British Government's concern about maintaining its sovereignty and its regulatory autonomy and we respect that, clearly. But no international agreement was ever reached without the parties agreeing to common rules — no international agreement.

"And I can predict, with absolute certainty, this will also be the case of trade agreements between the UK and other partners in the future such as the United States, Japan and Australia.”

Mr Barnier added: "Apart from the question of a level playing field there are still many other areas where progress is needed and for example, obviously fisheries where we have made no progress whatsoever on the issues that matter."

For the UK side, Mr Frost — who reportedly shared a draft agreement with EU negotiators in a bid to break the deadlock — said Britain was still aiming for a deal.

“Agreement is still possible, and it is still our goal, but it is clear that it will not be easy to achieve,” he said.

And the top British negotiator added: “Substantive work continues to be necessary across a range of different areas of potential UK-EU future cooperation if we are to deliver it

“We have had useful discussions this week but there has been little progress.  

“The EU is still insisting not only that we must accept continuity with EU state aid and fisheries policy, but also that this must be agreed before any further substantive work can be done in any other area of the negotiation, including on legal texts.  

“This makes it unnecessarily difficult to make progress.... We have been clear from the outset about the principles underlying the UK approach.”

Mr Frost added: "We are seeking a relationship which ensures we regain sovereign control of our own laws, borders, and waters, and centred upon a trading relationship based on an FTA like those the EU has concluded with a range of other international partners, together with practical arrangements for cooperation in areas such as aviation, scientific programmes, and law enforcement.

"When the EU accepts this reality in all areas of the negotiation, it will be much easier to make progress."

Mr Barnier meanwhile dismissed the UK’s draft proposals, saying that while it was “always a useful thing for the UK to remind us of their position”, the bloc could “only work on a consolidated text if everyone does it together”.

And the EU diplomat warned: "We can't have everyone working on a unilateral basis."

But a senior UK negotiating official hit out at the EU on level playing field talks, saying: “Michel Barnier said in his press conference just now Brexit means Brexit [but] they don't apply that in this area, where they want to see us continuing arrangements that are very like those that we're bound by as members of the EU.

“And we think that the ‘Brexit means Brexit’ principle is a good one and should be applied across the board.”

The official added: “It is frustrating now that the EU's position is that there needs to be a move towards their position on these issues before we can move, before we can begin discussions in depth now on anything else. 

“That's obviously problematic because there is a lot to do, and this seems to be making the already limited amount of time we've got compressed even further.”

But he was still optimistic for a deal next month, saying: “I think this is very doable in September, if we work hard and don't put unnecessary obstacles in our way.”

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