The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator said after the first day of renewed talks with Britain that the bloc is aiming for “tangible progress” by June on the shape of a new relationship before London severs its ties with the bloc at the end of the year.
Negotiations on sealing a new trade deal between Britain and the 27 EU member states had been on hold for weeks as the coronavirus pandemic drove Europe into a virtual lockdown.
Resuming on Monday (20 April), talks will stretch through the week before another round is due to start on 11 May.
“We must advance across all areas: It is our objective to make tangible progress by June,” EU negotiator Michel Barnier said after a videoconference with his UK counterpart, David Frost, on Monday.
The two sides are at odds over the scale of their future trade ties, fair competition provisions, fisheries, security and other fields, with London seeking a much looser relationship than the bloc says is needed to limit disruptions.
The EU believes a necessary complex and comprehensive agreement is beyond reach in the time left until the end of the year, when Britain’s current status-quo transition period is due to end after it officially left the bloc earlier this year.
The sides have until the end of June to agree on a possible extension, but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson – one of the leading faces of the Brexit campaign – has repeatedly and vehemently ruled that out.
His Brexit negotiator Frost said after the Monday talks that Britain was looking “to make good progress towards an agreement based on friendly cooperation between sovereign equals.”
While the EU is keen to prolong the time for negotiations, fearing an economically chaotic split with Britain at the end of the year, it says it would have to come with continued London contributions to the bloc’s joint budget – anathema to Brexit backers.
“It’s a balancing act between a no-deal Brexit and full legal autonomy for the UK; between bringing a sledgehammer to the economy, and what Brexiteers define as ‘vassalage’,” an EU official said of the prospects for prolonging talks beyond end-year.