Post-Brexit trade deal still some way off, UK and EU say
The UK and EU negotiating teams have both admitted that a post-Brexit trade deal is still some way off being agreed after the latest round of negotiations took place in London this week.
Chief UK negotiator David Frost said that “considerable gaps” remind in areas of difference but remained optimistic that a deal could be agreed in September.
The EU’s leading negotiator Michel Barnier has warned that the negotiating window is closing with both sides still “far away” from an agreement.
Barnier said that reaching a deal was “unlikely” unless the UK is willing to change position on fisheries and competition rules, adding that the UK had not shown any “willingness to break the deadlock” in areas of difference which were “at the heart” of the EU’s interests.
He said that for an agreement to be made, the EU requires an "equitable" fisheries agreement and "robust level playing field rules" over the UK's future framework for providing state aid, with prime minister Boris Johnson wanting to make it easier for Westminster to support struggling businesses.
Barnier was critical of the UK for not providing any details on its plans for a future state aid regime, which will enter force after the transition period.
The post-Brexit transition period, the window for a trade deal to be agreed, will end on December 31, 2020, after the possibility of an extension was ruled out at the end of June.
Barnier has indicated that an agreement must be in place “at the latest” by October to allow it to be formally ratified before the transition period lapses.
The latest round of talks was the second official negotiation to be held face-to-face after both sides agreed to an intensified timetable of negotiations in June.
Frost and Barnier will meet informally in London next week, with the next round of official negotiations set to occur in Brussels next month.
In his own statement, Frost said that the issues of access to the UK’s waters and competition rules around the so-called “level playing field” remained the “most difficult areas” of negotiation and said that the UK government must accept the possibility that a deal may not happen if there is no breakthrough in these areas.
Frost also indicated that the UK’s previous wish for an “early understanding” on the principles of a deal by the end of July would not materialise, adding that anything the EU had thus far come forward with as a means of making a breakthrough did not honour the “fundamental principles” which the UK has outlined.
However, Frost did say that the EU had been “pragmatic” over the UK’s wish to limit the role of the European Court of Justice once the transition period comes to an end.
He also said that the UK is considering a “simpler” structure for a trade deal with the bloc, having previously favoured separate deals for specific areas of interest.