Michel Barnier and UK’s David Frost hold crucial talks amid growing gloom over Brexit trade deal – but EU ‘won’t even discuss’ proposals on fishing rights
- ‘Informal’ discussions are expected to focus on state aid rules and fishing rights
- The EU wants guarantees that the UK will not undercut its own industries
- France accused Britain of deliberately stalling post-Brexit trade negotiations
Michel Barnier and the UK’s David Frost are holding emergency talks today amid gathering misery about the prospects for a Brexit trade deal.
With effectively just a month to thrash out trade terms in time for the end of the transition period, the bloc has been complaining that Britain is being ‘intransigent and unrealistic’.
But angry UK sources point out that Mr Barnier is refusing even to discuss proposals on access to fishing waters – one of the key issues alongside whether the UK must follow Brussels rules.
Mr Frost is expected to confront his counterpart today on his policy of ‘parallelism’, which means he will not negotiate on an area until Britain has made significant concessions on others.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier (right) will travel to London for the unscheduled talks with David Frost (left) in a bid to break the deadlock
A UK source told the Times that the EU team was not ‘engaging’ on so-called ‘room papers’ that could form the basis for a deal.
‘The EU has always said that fishing is a key issue for resolution but has subsequently declined to discuss it,’ they said.
‘We had hoped to make progress and presented room papers but, unfortunately, the EU refused to engage due to their self-imposed requirements.’
Formal negotiations between the two sides will resume next week.
A Whitehall source said that although the UK’s transition period from the EU is not due to finish until the end of the year, there is ‘realistically only a month’ to agree a deal in time for it to be ratified.
Both sides have become increasingly gloomy about the prospects for a deal in recent weeks after hopes of a summer breakthrough faded.
France yesterday accused Britain of deliberately stalling post-Brexit trade deal negotiations and having unreasonable expectations.
Speaking to his nation’s ambassadors, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: ‘Negotiations are not advancing because of the intransigent and unrealistic attitude of the United Kingdom.’
But British sources said the deadlock was due to the EU’s intransigence.
‘They don’t seem to be prepared to move on any of the big things,’ one said.
Boris Johnson has said that from the end of this year, the UK will determine access for foreign trawlers in British waters, in common with other independent coastal states.
But the EU is demanding that its fishing fleet continues to enjoy its existing access rights indefinitely.
Brussels is also demanding to know details of the UK’s state aid regime – the rules on bailouts of struggling companies and sectors – before moving on to other areas of negotiation.
The EU wants guarantees that the UK will not undercut its own industries.
Boris Johnson (pictured on a visit to a school last month) has said that from the end of this year, the UK will determine access for foreign trawlers in British waters, in common with other independent coastal states
But British ministers insist that as an independent country, the UK should be free to set its own industrial policy.
Mr Le Drian insisted yesterday the bloc of 27 will not buckle under pressure from London, adding: ‘On Brexit we always showed unity and proved wrong those who saw signs of an overall implosion of Europe.
‘It is in staying united that we can stick to our line of a global accord.’
But UK ministers are also confident Mr Johnson will not back down, raising the prospect of leaving without a trade deal at the end of this year unless negotiators can achieve a sudden breakthrough.