Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, wrote to the Westminster leaders of the Scottish Nationalist Party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Social Democratic and Labour Party, Green Party and Alliance Party to state that the option of an extension to the current transition period is available if the UK requests it.
The letter, which comes with the crucial fourth round of talks set to start on Monday, reads, “Such an extension of up to one or two years can be agreed jointly by the two parties. The EU has always said that we remain open on this matter.”
“Any extension decision has to be taken by the Joint Committee before 1 July and must be accompanied by an agreement on a financial contribution by the UK.”
The UK party leaders had written to Barnier earlier this month calling for a two-year extension.
Elsewhere, EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan has reportedly said he thinks the UK may have “given up” on a trade deal.
“Such an extension of up to one or two years can be agreed jointly by the two parties. The EU has always said that we remain open on this matter” Michel Barnier, chief EU Brexit negotiator
Speaking on Thursday, he said that the negotiations had not made much progress to date, adding, “Perhaps the UK has come to the conclusion that there’s not going to be a deal. I hope not because we want a deal, but speed is of the essence because time is short.”
The Irish official said Britain must make a bigger effort to make progress in the talks next week.
With pressure growing on both sides to reach a deal, the Socialist group in Parliament is also calling for “significant progress” in next week’s negotiations between the EU and the UK on the future relationship.
Ahead of the fourth round of negotiations from 1-5 June, S&D MEPs gave their “full support” to the EU’s negotiating team, headed by Barnier, to make progress towards a “comprehensive, and unprecedented” future partnership with the UK.
Portuguese Socialist MEP Pedro Silva Pereira, spokesperson on EU-UK negotiations commented, “If the UK is serious about a deal, we need to see significant progress in next week’s negotiations.”
“In recent weeks, it has been clear that the UK government wants to enjoy all the benefits that could accompany the unprecedented offer on the table - a comprehensive free trade agreement with zero tariffs and zero quotas - while rejecting the conditions for that deal to be agreed, such as a level playing field on standards and fair competition.”
“Perhaps the UK has come to the conclusion that there’s not going to be a deal. I hope not because we want a deal, but speed is of the essence because time is short” Phil Hogan, EU Trade Commissioner
“Barnier and his negotiating team have our full support when they say the UK will need to be more constructive if it really intends to reach a deal. We want to secure a future partnership that is mutually beneficial for UK and EU citizens alike, but the UK’s current cherry-picking approach, and refusal to engage in key areas, is not helping.”
He added, “Like the negotiations, we also have to see more progress in the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. If preparations to implement the Irish protocol are not ramped up or citizens’ rights are not fully respected, mutual trust for the future partnership will be undermined.”
Further comment came from party colleague Kati Piri, rapporteur on the negotiations for a new partnership with the UK, who added, “The COVID-19 pandemic and all the shared challenges the virus has uncovered should be the reason for success in these negotiations and not the excuse for failure.”
“In this determined spirit, I am working with colleagues across 17 specialised committees so that the European Parliament can give clear recommendations going forward, when next week’s negotiating round has concluded.”
The Dutch Socialist said the UK government has shown “no ambition” in key areas, such as fisheries, police cooperation or the level playing field, and there has been “no engagement whatsoever” on foreign and security policy.
“The UK is one of our most strategic partners and we need to agree a stable partnership agreement that properly reflects those shared mutual interests.”
“We want to secure a future partnership that is mutually beneficial for UK and EU citizens alike, but the UK’s current cherry-picking approach, and refusal to engage in key areas, is not helping” Pedro Silva Pereira MEP
She said Parliament will have to give consent to any future deal “and it is important for MEPs to be fully engaged every step of the way.”
This, she said, also includes the upcoming high-level conference in June, when both sides will take stock of the talks. If the transition period is to be extended beyond 31 December a decision on this must be taken by 1 July.
Meanwhile, a new report predicts that Brexit will be “more harmful and long-lasting” for the British army and UK’s defence sector than for the European Union.
The exhaustive study, by the Warsaw Institute, a leading Polish think tank, warns that the UK’s exit from the EU means existing arrangements and defence cooperation agreements “will need to be reassessed, completely changing the defence landscape of Europe.”
It says, however, that an extension to the current transition period, set to end on 31 December, would “mitigate damage” caused by the split.
Conversely for the EU side, it suggests that the British departure may have a “healing result” as both France and Germany will be able to pursue “more comprehensive” defence policies for the remaining EU27.