Latest UK-EU trade talks yield “very little progress”
The UK government has said that the latest round of negotiations with the EU this week over a post-Brexit trade deal has led to “very little progress”.
Chief UK negotiator David Frost insists that a comprehensive free-trade agreement can still be struck before the end of the year when the transition period lapses.
However, Frost said that the route toward a deal was being impeded by the EU looking to “bind” the UK to its own laws and standards, along with a deadlock over fisheries.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier told the media in Brussels that the UK was seeking the “best of both worlds”, adding that the bloc desires a “modern, forward-looking” trade agreement free of tariffs or quotas.
Barnier said that the EU would not be drawn into “negotiating in haste”, with a key summit due to take place in June to determine the progress of the talks.
A decision is likely to be made at the summit over whether the transition period should be extended beyond December this year.
Up to this point, the UK government has insisted that it will not agree to an extension even if the EU favours it.
Opposition parties within the UK, including Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP, have put pressure on Westminster to extend the transition period, due to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Yet, even through the crisis, the UK and EU have continued to carry out negotiations remotely.
Addressing the latest round of talks, Frost said that little to no progress had been made on the “significant outstanding issues” in negotiations and that the EU was pushing a set of “novel and unbalanced proposals” which demanded far more of the UK than its other trading partners.
He added that agreeing to these proposals and ensuring the “so-called level playing field” would keep the UK tied to EU laws and standards and keep European jurisdiction over the country’s domestic legal system.
Frost also called the EU’s desire for continued access to UK waters for fishing “incompatible with our future status as an independent coastal state.”
Frost said: "It is hard to understand why the EU insists on an ideological approach which makes it more difficult to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
"We very much need a change in EU approach for the next round beginning on 1 June. The UK will continue to work hard to find an agreement, for as long as there is a constructive process in being, and continues to believe that this is possible."
Meanwhile, Barnier said that the EU would not agree to a deal which was not all-encompassing and divided up individual sectors, nor would it sanction a deal “rooted in past precedents”.
He insisted that the UK having access to EU markets meant it had to adhere to certain EU rules and it could not “pick and choose” its preferences.
Barnier said: "You cannot have the best of both worlds. Open and fair competition is not a nice to have. It is a must-have."
Frost confirmed that the UK’s draft legal texts will be made public next week, to enable the member states of the EU, the media and public to fully understand its position.
Barnier also reassured that UK concerns over the treatment of Britons living on the continent will be addressed as part of the obligations of the ratified Withdrawal Agreement outlining the terms of the UK's departure from the EU.