UK would not extend Brexit transition period if asked, top negotiator David Frost says after Michel Barnier letter
David Frost and Michel Barnier are leading UK and EU talks on the future tie-up.
It is the UK Government’s “firm policy” not to extend the Brexit transition period, the country’s chief negotiator has said, after Brussels said it remained “open” to such a move.
David Frost told MPs on Wednesday that Britain prized its “economic and political freedom at the end of this year", as he rebuffed fresh calls from opposition parties to delay the date at which the UK will sharply diverge from EU rules.
Britain is currently due to leave the transition period, which keeps it tied to EU rules without a say in how they are drawn up, at the end of 2020, and the two sides are currently trying to thrash out a deal on their relationship after that point.
In a letter sent to senior figures in the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Green and the Alliance Parties, the EU’s top negotiator pointed out that an extension of “up to one or two years can be agreed jointly by the two parties”.
He added: “The European Union has always said we remain open to this matter.”
But, Mr Barnier said the decision must be taken “by the Joint Committee before 1 July, and must be accompanied by an agreement on a financial contribution by the UK”.
Seizing on the letter, the SNP’s Ian Blackford said the Government still had time “to agree an extension to prevent the UK crashing out with a devastating bad deal or a catastrophic no-deal”.
However, that demand was flatly rejected by the UK on Wednesday afternoon, with Mr Frost telling a Commons committee: “It’s the firm policy of the Government that we will not extend the transition period and, if asked, we would not agree to it.”
He added: “I take that as a given. I can see why that position has been taken.
“I think we have always put a lot of emphasis on economic and political freedom at the end of this year and on avoiding ongoing significant payments into the EU budgets.
“And of course, those things are accomplished by ending the transition period at the end of the year.
“So I work within that and it’s my job to get an agreement in the time that’s available.”
A Number 10 spokesperson meanwhile said: “There is no change to the government position. The transition period will end on December 31.”
FISHERIES PLAN ‘NOT A RUNNER’
The Commons grilling of Mr Frost, a special adviser who is leading the UK’s talks on a future deal with the EU, comes after a testy exchange of letters between the two senior negotiators.
And it follows a report by Reuters that there may be a “possible reconciliation” on fisheries, one of the key sticking points of the talks so far.
One EU diplomat told the news agency that the bloc’s push to maintain the status quo - where fishing takes place in UK waters but catches are allocated among fleets across the EU as part of the Common Fisheries Policy - was “impossible to uphold”.
Pressed on the issue during the Commons grilling, Mr Frost said the EU’s current position was “a bit unusual”.
He told MPs: “In many other areas they tell us nothing will be the same after you’ve left the EU - rightly so, it is different.
“But fisheries seems to be the one exception to that. I think to be fair to him, Mr Barnier has given a few public signals that he thinks this may not be a completely realistic position.
“And you know, we’ll have to see if they can move forward on that. Clearly it’s not a runner for us - it just is not, so we’ll have to find a way forward.”
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD MUST BE ‘APPROPRIATE’
Another key point of contention in the talks meanwhile remains Britain’s objection to a raft of “level playing field” provisions demanded by the EU in exchange for market access.
Brussels has called on the UK to maintain consistent standards with it on workers’ rights, state aid, tax and environmental protection as part of allowing high access to its single market.
But the UK has repeatedly pointed to deals the EU has struck with countries including Canada and Japan as a model for the kind of relationship Britain wants to seal with the bloc post-Brexit - arguing that these agreements do not come with the same terms.
Mr Frost said: “We are not saying that there can be no level playing field provisions.
“We are simply saying that there must be provisions which are appropriate to a free trade agreement, and like those found in the Canada or Japan agreements.
“And that is what we have put forward. But there is a big gap between those and where the EU is and that will be one of the biggest issues we’ve got to resolve in the next few months.”