The fourth round of Brexit talks, which start next week, could determine if the two sides can reach agreement on a trade deal before the end of the transition period on 31 December.
A well-placed parliamentary source told this website, “The next round is seen as crucial given the high-level conference expected in June.”
“As far as I am aware, Barnier will reiterate the need for political support from the European Parliament and will repeat this later this afternoon in another meeting, this time with the conference of committee chairs.”
The source said Barnier is expected to deliver the same message on Friday, when he meets members of Parliament’s UK Coordination Group (UKCG), the body that replaced the Brexit Steering Group and is chaired by David McAllister, a German MEP and Foreign Affairs Committee Chair.
On 15 May a clearly frustrated Barnier warned, “The next round of talks starting in the first week of June must bring new developments in order to avoid stalemate. We will remain calm and firm.”
He also accused the UK of “lacking understanding” in the ongoing Brexit trade talks.
The French official said, “In our closing meeting with David Frost, the chief UK negotiator, I said the talks had been very disappointing and hope the next one will be positive.”
The two sides are at an impasse on various issues, the thorniest being level playing field rules. Progress in the talks has also been held up by the Coronavirus pandemic which has also meant the two sides can only hold video conferences instead of the usual face-to-face meetings.
“The UK wants freedom to diverge but access to market without the rules. We [the EU] want fair and free trade and you have to remember that more than 90 percent of the costs come from compliance with the rules” Danuta Hübner MEP
The high-level conference is seen as a chance for both the UK and EU to take stock of the progress in the negotiation. Parliament must sign off on any deal.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has refused to extend the talks beyond the 31 December deadline even though many observers say reaching a deal by then is close to impossible. The EU says it is up to the UK, not Brussels, to request an extension to the talks.
Meanwhile, senior MEP Danuta Hübner, a former member of the Brexit Steering Group, has launched a blistering attack on the UK over the ongoing talks. Her verbal attack comes after Barnier himself gave a decidedly downbeat assessment of the last round of talks which ended on 15 May.
Speaking just ahead of the talks, due to start again on 1 June, the Polish EPP member, a former EU Commissioner, told this website she “doubts” the UK wants a deal and accused Britain of “backtracking on the political declaration.”
She said, “The UK wants freedom to diverge but access to market without the rules. We [the EU] want fair and free trade and you have to remember that more than 90 percent of the costs come from compliance with the rules.”
She accused the UK side of disseminating “aggressive letters”, saying she was “generally sceptical and disappointed” about its negotiating stance.
Hübner added, “I am not expecting much from the next round” because of “huge disparities” between the two sides.
Elsewhere, the EPP, the assembly’s biggest political grouping, has pitched into the renewed Brexit debate, focusing on fisheries, another area of current bitter dispute between the UK and EU.
“It will not be possible to conclude a comprehensive agreement between the EU and the UK if it does not include a comprehensive, balanced and long-term fisheries agreement, allowing continued access to waters and resources and maintaining stringent common rules for the protection of species” François-Xavier Bellamy MEP
François-Xavier Bellamy, author of Parliament’s fisheries committee's opinion on the future relationship between the UK and EU, said, “Fisheries must not be an adjustment variable or a political symbol in the Brexit equation.”
The French member added, “No fisheries agreement means no post-Brexit agreement.”
“The European Parliament has shown that it wants the fisheries sector to function as closely as possible to the current situation. Otherwise, we will veto the post-Brexit treaty.”
“It will not be possible to conclude a comprehensive agreement between the EU and the UK if it does not include a comprehensive, balanced and long-term fisheries agreement, allowing continued access to waters and resources and maintaining stringent common rules for the protection of species,” warned Bellamy.
Nearly 40 percent of the fish caught in Europe are captured in UK waters and 70 percent of UK fisheries products are exported to the European market.
Bellamy said, “Without an agreement, many direct and indirect jobs will be destroyed and the social fabric of the coastal regions whose soul is in fishing and seafaring will be deeply damaged. This value chain is already being severely affected by the current Coronavirus crisis and its consequences.”
“It is in the interests of both parties to agree on a text that comes as close to the current situation as possible,” he said.
Bellamy also warned against a disaster for biodiversity in case an agreement is not found. “We should not go back to a race for volume that would profoundly destabilise species and ecosystems that until now we have managed to preserve with the British,” said Bellamy.
“Beyond our political colours, we are sending a clear signal to the fishing, aquaculture and fish trade sectors: in this period of uncertainty, we are more than ever at their side,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, the UK government has insisted that “UK sovereignty over Gibraltar” remains “unchanged.” This comes after a meeting of the Withdrawal Agreement Specialised Committee on the Protocol on Gibraltar on Wednesday.
The meeting, co-chaired by officials from the UK government and European Commission, discussed implementation of the Protocol on Gibraltar.
A UK statement said, “The UK is committed to ensuring the implementation of the Protocol to provide continued security and prosperity to Gibraltar and the region. The UK and the EU reaffirmed their commitment to continued progress towards the commitments outlined in the Protocol. The discussions in no way affect UK sovereignty over Gibraltar, which remains unchanged.”