Barnier: “Significant divergences” remain in UK-EU trade negotiations
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier has said that there are still “significant divergences” between the UK and EU in talks over a free-trade agreement.
Following a round of informal face-to-face discussions with UK counterpart David Frost in London, Barnier said that his negotiating team would “continue working with patience, respect and determination” but conceded that changes in the relationship between the UK and the bloc would be “inevitable”.
The post-Brexit transition period will not be extended beyond December 31, meaning that a free-trade deal must be reached by the end of the year to avoid the UK losing access to the single market and customs union overnight and UK-EU trade defaulting to World Trade Organization terms.
Barnier said that the recent face-to-face talks which took place as part of an intensified negotiating schedule had been useful, adding that his team was “negotiating in good faith” and working hard toward a “fair agreement”, including on major issues such as fisheries and the so-called “level playing field”.
Fisheries in particular has proven a major bone of contention, with the UK favouring annual talks over access to British waters while the EU wants continued access to avoid disruption for fishermen from member states.
Informal talks taking place this week included a dinner at Downing Street on Wednesday this week, which the prime minister’s official spokesman described as a “constructive opportunity” for the chief negotiators of both sides to meet “in a more informal way” prior to formal negotiations restarting.
The spokesman added that both Frost and Barnier were eager to discuss issues such as “goods and services, fisheries, governance, the level-playing field and law enforcement”.
European Commission spokesman Daniel Farrie informed the media that more meetings will be held in Brussels next week, with the next formal round of negotiations taking place in London on the week of July 20.
Farrie said that the EU was “working hard to overcome the significant divergences that remain” between both sides.
He added: “We are working towards an agreement”.