Post-Brexit trade talks are in danger of grinding to a halt due to “very serious divergences” between the UK and EU, both negotiating teams warned.
David Frost and Michel Barnier are pushing to strike a deal with 10 days to a week, but have made slower progress than they wanted on the key issues of fishing, business subsidies and how any free-trade agreement should be monitored and enforced.
The two negotiators will resume talks on Thursday via video call, after a fortnight of face-to-face meetings in London and Brussels. They are close to a deal on most of the less contentious issues at stake, such as security co-operation, but remain divided on the trickiest questions.
Wide divergences remain on some core issues
Mr Barnier said: “Despite EU efforts to find solutions, very serious divergences remain in level playing field, governance and fisheries. These are essential conditions for any economic partnership.”
Lord Frost added: “We’ve just finished two weeks of intensive talks with the EU. Progress made, but I agree with Michel Barnier that wide divergences remain on some core issues. We continue to work to find solutions that fully respect UK sovereignty.”
Both sides insist they are prepared for a no-deal outcome in case negotiations do break down. The EU side has accused Britain’s Government of failing to act with sufficient urgency given the need for any deal to be translated into every official European language and approved by the 27 member states as well as the European Parliament.
European member states have been reluctant to give up existing fishing rights in UK waters, calling for the status quo to remain rather than moving to a “scientific approach” which would see stocks reallocated on an annual basis. On regulation, Britain has refused to sign up to an agreement which would force it to keep current minimum standards in order to avoid undercutting the EU market.
Veteran Brexiteer Sir Bernard Jenkin accused the EU of being “destructive” and refusing to recognise Britain’s sovereignty. He added: “The UK will reap billions in import tariffs on EU exports to the UK if no FTA, for funding post-Brexit UK.”