The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said he is “worried and disappointed” over the UK’s approach to the talks, fuelling fears that the UK will leave the bloc in January without a deal.
He said there was no breakthrough at a meeting on Tuesday with the UK’s negotiator, David Frost. “We didn’t see any change in the position of the UK, which is why I expressed publicly what I say, that I am worried and I am disappointed because, frankly speaking, we have moved,
[and] shown in many issues real openness in the past months,” Barnier told the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin.
He said the EU had recognised the UK’s red lines on fair competition, fisheries and governance, including the European court of justice, and was willing to compromise, but the UK was refusing to put proposals on the table on state aid or fisheries. “On all these issues, the UK sides continue to disappoint,” he said.
Talks about 11 subject areas that will determine post-Brexit trade and the UK’s future relationship with the EU have been going on since March. Last week EU insiders described the talks as a “whole summer completely wasted”.
Barnier said he was more a realist than an optimist and was convinced Boris Johnson would not allow the UK to crash out. “I continue to think, despite the current difficulties, that Boris Johnson wants an agreement with the EU,” he said.
But he added more than once that this would not be at any cost. “The EU will not sacrifice its principles for the sole benefit of the UK.”
He said the UK wanted a zero tariff and zero quota trade deal, but “they will have to move” to achieve that as the EU would not strike a deal that would be to the “detriment of the EU and the single market”.
Barnier said sometimes he heard people in the UK talking about no deal and he thought: good luck. “There will be a huge difference between a deal and a no deal. I still think, even if it is very difficult, that a deal is possible.”
He said the UK’s insistence that it simply wanted a deal like Canada or Japan was not based on reality. The proximity of the UK made it different to other trading partners as it automatically brought higher volumes and breadth of commerce.
“This shows clearly why we need these economic and commercial fair play and critical mechanisms to avoid trade distortions and unfair competitive advantages,” he said. “This is particularly important in the state aid, where the potential to distort competition using subsidies is clearly significant.”
Barnier warned that the UK and the EU faced serious Brexit consequences on 1 January, the end of the transition period, deal or no deal, with customs declarations, health checks and friction for banks and car manufacturers.
Johnson’s spokesman said Frost and Barnier had a “useful review” of the agenda for next week but “major difficulties remain”.
He said “the EU’s insistence on progress on state aid and fisheries is an obstacle to making progress overall”.