Michel Barnier warns of ‘very serious divergences’ between UK and EU in post-Brexit trade talks
Michel Barnier has warned there are "serious divergences" between the UK and the EU following the first round of talks on Britain's post-Brexit relationship with the bloc.
The EU’s chief negotiator said there remained "very difficult" differences on issues such as fair competition and fisheries as he claimed an agreement with was still "possible, even if difficult".
Speaking after four days of talks between the two negotiating teams, Mr Barnier said it was "natural" for differences to exist.
But he warned there would be an "immediate and concrete" effect on the future relationship unless the two sides can reach an agreement.
According to the senior EU official, the two sides remain divided over so-called level playing field provisions to ensure fair competition between UK and EU firms, the role of the European Court of Justice, fisheries and the overall nature of the agreement.
Speaking to reporters, he 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.
"We had agreed with the UK that we would want to prevent. on both sides. distortions in trade and prevent unfair competitive advantage."
He added: "The UK does not wish to translate those undertakings into a common agreement and they do not want appropriate mechanisms on either side to ensure the respect of it.
"Whilst we agree on preserving high standards, my questions is why not committ to them formally? It is a question of trust."
Mr Barnier also said the UK had put forward an "impracticable" deal for fisheries which would see a new agreement on quotas thrashed out between the two sides each year.
He meanwhile claimed Boris Johnson was in favour of a series of separate deals guiding the future relationship - while the bloc is eyeing a comprehensive deal which includes the UK continuing to implement the European Convention on Human Rights, and allowing a role for the European Court of Justice.
Mr Barnier warned there would be a "lot of consequences" for the UK if it walked away from a deal at the end of the transition period in January 2021.
He said: "The definitive changes which will happen because of the decision of the United Kingdom and the difficulties which will be linked to that, my impression is they are very often underestimated."
His warning comes after a spokesperson for the Prime Minister dismissed suggestions the Brexit talks could be extended due to the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Asked if growing numbers of cases could derail the negotiations, they said: "That work has been continuing throughout, and I'd expect it to carry on as planned - no change."