The UK is looking more and more likely to plunge out of the EU without a trade deal on December 31 after a fifth round of talks closed in a bitter row.
Brussels declared a UK-EU trade deal is now “unlikely” after failing to reach “early understanding” by a July deadline.
UK Chief Negotiator David Frost said a last-ditch trade deal is still possible in September – while the EU’s Michel Barnier said October is the final deadline.
But “we must face the possibility that one will not be reached”, Mr Frost said. And ahead of a sixth round of talks in August, he said “considerable gaps remain in the most difficult areas”.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier today lashed out at the UK, claiming it had not given enough ground and saying “the time for answers is quickly running out.”
The two biggest splits are over fisheries and the so-called “level playing field” – which means how far the UK follows EU rules in return for EU trade.
The UK insists on its own fishing rules, which would bar EU fishermen from fishing freely in UK waters in favour of an annual quota system.
On the level playing field, the UK wants to be free to set its own laws in areas like labour, environment, climate, sustainable development and subsidy control.
Mr Frost accused Brussels of failing to understand Brexit.
“Until the EU has internalised and accepted that we will be an independent state with the right to determine our laws, control our own fishing grounds, then it will be difficult to reach an agreement,” said Mr Frost.
“We’re in a negotiation. Either outcome is possible. We will work energetically to get a deal but it is possible we won’t reach one.”
But Mr Barnier fumed: “By its current refusal to commit to the condition of open and fair competition, and to a balanced agreement on fisheries, the UK makes a trade agreement at this point unlikey.”
He warned “we are still far away” and added: “The UK has not shown the same level of engagement and readiness to find solutions.”
Mr Barnier said “we only have a few weeks left and we should not waste time”, and warned Britain will face “far more friction” at the border if there’s no deal.
In a serious of pointed jibes at Boris Johnson, he said: “This is the truth of Brexit – and I will continue to tell the truth.”
Mr Barnier said the EU had tried to rely on Boris Johnson’s own statements about his red lines on the two most contentious issues – fishing rights and the ‘level playing field’, following EU rules.
Mr Barnier snapped he had tried to “square” Mr Johnson’s own pledges in the ‘political declaration’, part of the Brexit deal last year, with his pleas now.
“We have been saying the same thing since the very beginning of these negotiations,” he said.
“We are simply asking to translate this political engagement into a legal text – nothing more.
“What the Prime Minister writes and says matters to us.”
He said on fisheries and the level playing field, “the UK did not show a willingness to break the deadlock.”
And he said the EU “will not accept” footing the bills on “the UK’s political choices.” He claimed the UK was asking for “near total exclusion” of EU vessels from its waters – something that was “unacceptable.”
But the UK hit back that the EU was failing to give ground.
Mr Frost said: “Considerable gaps remain in the most difficult areas, that is, the so-called level playing field and on fisheries.
“We have always been clear that our principles in these areas are not simple negotiating positions but expressions of the reality that we will be a fully independent country at the end of the transition period.”
While Britain formally left the EU on January 31, exit triggered an 11-month transition to allow time to agree a trade deal.
Officials have until the end of the year to find an agreement, but have reached an “impasse”, an insider said.
Informal talks take place next week in London, before formal negotiations restart on August 17.
Any pact needs to be ratified by the UK Parliament, European Parliament and some European regional and national assemblies.
A senior UK Government official involved in the EU-UK trade talks said: “We’ve always said there is no cut-off date other than in the sense we will have to allow time to ratify and prepare texts, working through the process and so on.
“What we have said is when the process stops being useful and it is clear we are not going to reach an agreement, that is the point when we don’t need to keep talking any longer.
“We are not at that point at the moment.”