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Fri, 23 October 2020

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Latest Brexit talks end with ‘no significant progress’ amid deadlock on fisheries and level playing field

Latest Brexit talks end with ‘no significant progress’ amid deadlock on fisheries and level playing field

Michel Barnier: "I don’t think we can go on like this forever." (PA)

5 min read

The latest round of Brexit talks has ended with “no significant progress” on a raft of key areas, the EU’s chief negotiator has said.

Michel Barnier told reporters that deadlocked talks on Britain’s future ties with the bloc could not “go on like this forever” - as the UK said it was “close to reaching the limits” of what could be achieved.

Punchy statements from the chief negotiators made clear that the two sides remain at loggerheads over issues including fisheries, the role of the European Court of Justice, and the EU’s demand for a host of “level-playing field” commitments on rights and standards in exchange for access to the bloc’s single market.

Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, Mr Barnier said that while both sides had shown “great respect for each other”, he had a duty to “speak the truth and to tell the truth this week there have been no significant areas of progress”.

On fisheries, where the two sides are thrashing out access to Britain’s waters once the current EU-wide quota system no longer applies, Mr Barnier said: “The UK have not shown any true will to explore other approaches beyond zonal attachment for the sharing of quotas.

“They continue to condition access to waters to annual negotiation which is not possible for us, not even technically possible. The EU wants to construct a stable economic partnership, that’s always been our desire.”

He said there had been “no progress there either” on the level-playing field push, while there remained “still a long way away on building a framework” for how any future deal would be governed.

On cross-border law enforcement, Mr Barnier said the two sides had had “a more constructive discussion”, but said there remained “some important questions open as to how all that would be reflected in the agreement itself”.

And he pointed back to the pledges made by both Britain and the UK last year as they agreed on the divorce deal that formally ended the UK’s membership of the EU and kicked off a year-long transition period.

“On these points, as on other points, all we’re asking for is the political declaration to be respected and complied with,” Mr Barnier said.

“There has been no significant progress on these points, as I’ve said, not since the start of the negotiations.

“And I don’t think we can go on like this forever. On top of that, the UK as you know have refused to extend the transition period, in other words, to allow more time for negotiations.”

Mr Barnier said the EU’s door was “still open” to extending the transition period, which currently sees the UK tied to the bloc’s rules until the end of this year.

“It’s possible and written into the agreement. Our door is still open to that end,” he said.

“However, if there is no joint decision towards such an extension, as we understand is the case now, if there is no change, the UK will leave the single market and the customs on the 30th December, that’s less than seven months away from now.

“Now if we take into account we have to have in terms of time to ratify an agreement, we have to have legal text at the latest on the 31st October. And that leaves us about five months, give or take, a bit less in fact. We have to use this time as efficiently as possible.”

‘IMPORTANT MOMENT’

In his own statement, Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost said the latest talks - which were again held remotely amid the coronavirus pandemic - had been “a little shorter than usual and more restricted in scope”, with the two sides discussing “the most difficult” issues.

And he said: “Progress remains limited but our talks have been positive in tone. Negotiations will continue and we remain committed to a successful outcome.”

But Mr Frost added: “We are now at an important moment for these talks. 

“We are close to reaching the limits of what we can achieve through the format of remote formal Rounds. If we are to make progress, it is clear that we must intensify and accelerate our work.

“We are discussing with the Commission how this can best be done.

“We need to conclude this negotiation in good time to enable people and businesses to have certainty about the trading terms that will follow the end of the transition period at the end of this year, and, if necessary, to allow ratification of any agreements reached.”

The UK’s chief negotiator said Britain remained “willing to work hard to see whether at least the outline of a balanced agreement, covering all issues, can be reached soon”.

But it warned that any deal “must, of course, accommodate the reality of the UK’s well-established position on the so-called ‘level playing field’, on fisheries, and the other difficult issues”.

“For our part, we are willing to work hard to see whether at least the outline of a balanced agreement, covering all issues, can be reached soon.

“Any such deal must, of course, accommodate the reality of the UK’s well-established position on the so-called ‘level playing field’, on fisheries, and the other difficult issues.”

UK sources suggested that fundamental differences remained with the bloc on fisheries, with Britain continuing to push Brussels for a separate fisheries agreement, while the EU remained committed to tying an agreement over waters to a wider free trade agreement.

British negotiators continue to believe that the EU’s call for a raft of level-playing commitments, which it argues are required for a high level of access to its market, go beyond what has been expected of other countries including Japan and Canada.

The UK is meanwhile pushing back strongly at the European Court of Justice playing a role in mediating disagreements between the two sides in any future deal.

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