Last chance saloon for Brexit trade deal as Barnier brands it ‘unlikely’

As the EU and UK wrapped up their latest round of talks in London, the EU’s chief negotiator was dubious of the likelihood of breaking the deadlock while his UK counterpart was decidedly more upbeat on the prospect of a deal in September.
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By Lorna Hutchinson

23 Jul 2020

In a press conference on Thursday, chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said, “this week again, the UK did not show a willingness to break the deadlock. On the level playing field, the UK still refuses to commit to maintaining high standards in a meaningful way. On State aid, despite the clear wording of the Political Declaration, we have made no progress at all.”

“This is all the more worrying because we have no visibility on the UK's intention on its future domestic subsidy control regime. We respect the UK political debate but the time for answers is quickly running out.”

“By its current refusal to commit to the condition of open and fair competition, and to a balanced agreement on fisheries, the UK makes a trade agreement, at this point, unlikely.”

Barnier said that despite the “current difficulties”, the EU would remain engaged, constructive and respectful until the last day of the negotiations – just over five months from now.

He warned that if no agreement is reached on the two sides’ future partnership, there will be “far more friction.”

“For instance, on trade in goods, in addition to new customs formalities, there will be tariffs and quotas. This is the truth of Brexit. And I will continue to tell the truth. If we want to avoid this additional friction, we must come to an agreement in October at the latest, so that our new treaty can enter into force on 1 January next year.”

“By its current refusal to commit to the condition of open and fair competition, and to a balanced agreement on fisheries, the UK makes a trade agreement, at this point, unlikely” Michel Barnier, chief EU Brexit negotiator

“This means that we only have a few weeks left, and we should not waste them.”

He concluded on a positive note, saying that he continues to believe that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the UK government want to find an agreement with the EU.

For his part, Barnier’s UK counterpart, David Frost, said in a statement that it was “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.”

“At that meeting, the Prime Minister set out once again the 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.”

“Any agreement needs to honour these principles in full.  The EU’s proposals so far, while a welcome response to the Prime Minister’s statement, do not do so, and therefore substantial areas of disagreement remain.”

Expanding on the “considerable gaps” in the most difficult areas; namely the so-called level playing field and fisheries, Frost said, “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.”

“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” David Frost, UK chief Brexit negotiator

Frost said that although the UK 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.”

But he added, “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.”

Reacting to the statements, German Greens MEP Terry Reintke said, “This is where the UK’s negotiation approach based solely on ideology has brought us to.”

Belgian EPP deputy Kris Peeters, who is also a member of Parliament’s UK Coordination Group, made reference to the fact that there had been no UK willingness on the level playing field on standards and state aid and no willingness on a fisheries agreement, adding, “Despite agreement with PM Johnson on the Political Declaration. Last call for the UK!”

Bernd Lange, chair of Parliament’s International Trade Committee and member of the UK Coordination Group, said, “Unfortunately, the no-deal is becoming more and more likely. What’s more, there is no real interest from the UK to negotiate constructively with the EU. But was it ever there? Good that the EU always had Plan B in view at the same time.”

Barnier and his negotiating team will return to London for informal talks next week and a new negotiating round is scheduled for mid-August.

Read the most recent articles written by Lorna Hutchinson - EU policymakers condemn Poland over withdrawal from Istanbul Convention

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