THE UK and EU are holding an emergency meeting in London on Tuesday in a desperate attempt to find a breakthrough in Brexit talks, but with Brussels standing firm and making demands of Britain, should Boris Johnson send chief negotiator Michel Barnier back to the EU?
Michel Barnier is travelling to London today to hold informal talks with UK counterpart David Frost at Downing Street, as both sides try to find common ground on a number of key Brexit red lines to break the longstanding stalemate in trade negotiations. The pair will be meeting outside of the scheduled negotiating timetable to discuss the stagnated talks, with the official eighth round of talks resuming in London next Monday. Discussions began in March but more than five months later, little progress has been made, with both the UK and European Union standing their ground and refusing to provide any leeway on crucial issues including fishing access, the level playing field and state aid.
Time is running out for the UK and EU to agree on a post-Brexit trade deal, which would need to be ratified in the European Parliament next month to be complete before the end of the transition period on December 31.
Mr Barnier, who has repeatedly lashed out at opposing negotiators during the bitter trade talks, is refusing to open discussions on Britain’s new fisheries proposals until the UK budges on other issues.
He has urged for “parallelism” – where multiple elements on a range of topics are agreed before moving forward.
UK counterpart Mr Frost has previously said there has been “little progress” during trade negotiations amid differences on fisheries policy and state aid rules.
But ahead of this week’s informal talks at Downing Street, France launched a stinging attack against Britain, warning trade talks were not advancing because of the “intransigent and unrealistic attitude of the United Kingdom”,
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the country’s ambassadors the EU27 would not buckle under pressure from Britain.
Speaking alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, he said: “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 the UK Government quickly hit back, accusing the EU of making it “unnecessarily difficult to make progress”.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “We have been clear from the outset about the principles underlying the UK approach: we are seeking a relationship that respects our sovereignty and which has a free trade agreement at its core, similar to those the EU has already agreed with like-minded countries.
“However, the EU is still insisting not only that we must accept continuity with EU state aid and fisheries policy, but also that this must be agreed before any further substantive work can be done in any other area of the negotiation, including on legal texts, making it unnecessarily difficult to make progress.
“We will continue to work hard to reach agreement and look forward to the next round taking place next week.”
Last Wednesday, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Mr Barnier warned a deal must be agreed by the end of October, after negotiations made little progress the previous week.
He told a French employers’ federation conference outside Paris: “If we are to ensure the ratification of a new treaty in a secure way before the end of the year, we need to have an agreement by around October 31.”
Following the latest round of Brexit talks in Brussels last month, Mr Barnier insisted negotiations with UK counterparts appeared to be going backwards rather than forwards, warning it looks unlikely a deal could be clinched before the year-end deadline.
He told a press conference in the Belgian capital: “We hear the British Government’s concern about maintaining its sovereignty and its regulatory autonomy and we respect that, clearly. But no international agreement was ever reached without the parties agreeing to common rules – no international agreement.
“And I can predict, with absolute certainty, this will also be the case of trade agreements between the UK and other partners in the future such as the United States, Japan and Australia.
“Apart from the question of a level playing field there are still many other areas where progress is needed and for example, obviously fisheries where we have made no progress whatsoever on the issues that matter.”
“At this stage, an agreement between the UK and the European Union seems unlikely.
“On the European side, we are very concerned about the state of play in our negotiations. The clock is ticking.”