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UK’s chief Brexit negotiator says ‘substantial areas of disagreement remain’ as hopes fade of an EU deal by the end of 2020

Chief Brexit negotiator David Frost [left] says the UK and the EU are a long way from agreeing a deal (PA)

4 min read

The UK’s chief Brexit negotiator has painted a bleak picture of the potential for a trade deal with the EU by the end of the year after another round of talks.

David Frost said “substantial areas of disagreement remain” between the two sides on the key issues of fishing and the so-called ‘level playing field’ of rights and standards.

In a lengthy statement after the latest round of negotiations in search of an agreement, he said Britain “must face the possibility that one will not be reached”, adding that “we must therefore continue preparing for all possible scenarios for the end of the transition period at the end of this year”.

He said: “It is unfortunately clear that we will not reach in July the ‘early understanding on the principles underlying any agreement’ that was set as an aim at the High Level Meeting on 15 June.”

Talks are now expected to go on into late August and September as they push to get something signed off.

Mr Frost did suggest there had been movement in other areas between the Government and Brussels, and hinted we could end up with "sectoral agreements” on individual issues, rather than complete a comprehensive deal by the end of 2020, when the transition period runs out.

Speaking after the talks, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier offered a similarly pessimistic portrait, accusing the UK of not having “shown the same level of engagement and readiness to find solutions respecting the EU fundamental principles and interests”.

At a press conference, he said: “This week, we have had constructive discussions on some issue in goods and services. 

“But, these negotiations are complex and require us to make progress across all areas. And we are still far away.”

And he added: “Obviously, if we do not reach an agreement on our future relationship, there will be far more friction. There will be tariffs and there will be quotas.

"This is the truth of Brexit and I will continue to tell the truth."

But a senior Government official involved in the talks said the UK has made a “big move” on the structure of a potential deal, and the “question is now whether the EU can adapt its position”.

They said an agreement can still be done and there is a pathway to it, but they “cannot be sure we will get there”, saying the talks are equally close to “breakdown” than “breakthrough”.

Asked on a scale of 0 to 10 how close were the two sides to getting a deal, the official would only say it was "somewhere between 0 and 10".

Mr Frost said that at the meetings in June, Boris Johnson had set out again the UK’s “fundamental principles which we have repeatedly made clear would need to underpin any future agreement and which are intrinsic to the UK’s future as an economically and politically independent country”.

He praised the EU for having “listened to the UK on some of the issues most important to us, notably on the role of the Court of Justice”.

And he said they have held “constructive discussions on trade in goods and services, and in some of the sectoral agreements, notably on transport, social security cooperation, and participation in EU programmes”. 

“But considerable gaps remain in the most difficult areas, that is, the so-called level playing field and on fisheries," he adde.

“We have always been clear that our principles in these areas are not simple negotiating positions but expressions of the reality that we will be a fully independent country at the end of the transition period.”

Mr Frost concludes his statement saying: “When the next round of negotiations begins there will be not much more than four months left until the end of the transition period. 

“Although we will continue energetically to seek an agreement with the EU, we must face the possibility that one will not be reached, and we must therefore continue preparing for all possible scenarios for the end of the transition period at the end of this year. 

“Despite all the difficulties, on the basis of the work we have done in July, my assessment is that agreement can still be reached in September, and that we should continue to negotiate with this aim in mind.

“Accordingly we look forward to welcoming the EU team back to London next week as planned for informal discussions and to the next negotiating Round beginning on 17 August.”

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