Talks on an EU-UK trade agreement continue to make little progress, Michel Barnier warned on Friday (21 August, repeating that a deal remained “unlikely”.
“I am disappointed, concerned and surprised as well,” the EU’s chief negotiator on Future Relations with the UK told reporters following the seventh round of trade talks, complaining that the UK had not made compromise proposals on state aid and fisheries. “This week, once again, the British negotiators have not shown any willingness to move forward,” he said.
“We have made no progress whatsoever,” on fisheries, said Barnier, though he said that negotiations had moved closer on energy co-operation, future UK participation in EU programmes and anti-money laundering.
The EU chief negotiator added that “the level playing field is not going away. It is a non-negotiable precondition.”
Barnier’s remarks were far more downbeat than those of his UK counterpart, David Frost.
In a statement on Friday, Frost insisted that “an agreement is still possible, and it is still our goal”, though he also conceded that “we have had useful discussions this week but there has been little progress.
For their part, UK officials have expressed frustration this week that the EU is insisting on reaching agreement on state aid and fisheries before beginning substantive discussions on draft legal texts.
The UK has submitted a consolidated text, which has not been made public, although officials say that it focuses particularly on goods and services. The draft text covers small businesses, intellectual property, financial services, digital policy and, for the first time, includes a UK offer on geographical indicators, UK officials say.
However, they complain that Barnier’s team have refused to engage in detail on the text.
This makes it unnecessarily difficult to make progress. There are other significant areas which remain to be resolved and, even where there is a broad understanding between negotiators, there is a lot of detail to work through.
Time is short for both sides. Earlier this week, a UK government spokesman said that Boris Johnson’s government was hoping to reach an agreement by the end of September.
The EU, meanwhile, has earmarked the European Council summit in mid-October as the moment for getting sign on a deal which would then need to be scrutinised and ratified in the European Parliament and national parliaments.
“We have very little time. We have two months to find an agreement,” worried Barnier.
Despite the frustrated tone of statements, UK officials say that the relationship between Barnier and Frost is positive.
One issue in the spotlight in this week’s round was the status of freight hauliers. The UK’s wants British hauliers to be allowed to travel across EU states and to make up to two drop offs within an EU country and three in total across the EU27, plus unlimited access for empty lorries.
But this is similar to the rules covering drivers from EU member states, and the Commission team believes that, with the UK refusing to keep existing rules on working time and tachographs measuring how far hauliers have been on the road, this would amount to the UK ‘cherry-picking’ from the single market.
“What is happening are the consequences of the Brexit vote,” said Barnier. “They (the UK) refuse to keep to these standards but want a level access comparable to an EU member states. It is Britain’s choice not ours.”
“Brexit means Brexit”.