Post-Brexit trade pact suffers setback as ‘disagreements’ end talks early

The European Union's Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said on Wednesday (20 May) that Britain was not automatically entitled to any benefits that the bloc had previously granted to other partners on trade. [Europe by Satellite]

The prospects of a post-Brexit EU-UK trade deal being brokered this year suffered a new setback on Thursday (2 July) as the first round of in-person talks since the coronavirus pandemic broke up a day earlier with both sides citing ‘significant disagreements’.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters that his team had “engaged constructively” in a bid to “get negotiations successfully and quickly on a trajectory to reach an agreement.”

“The EU expects, in turn, for its positions to be better understood and respected in order to reach an agreement,” said Barnier.

A planned meeting on Friday between Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost was cancelled after both sides agreed to call an early end to the week’s round.

For his part, Frost said that the talks had been “comprehensive and useful. But they have also underlined the significant differences that still remain between us on a number of important issues.”

In June, Barnier expressed exasperation at what he believes is the UK’s unwillingness to engage in constructive negotiations, after three months of negotiating rounds held by videolink because of the pandemic delivered little progress on fisheries, governance and the so-called ‘level playing field’ on regulatory standards.

Earlier this week, the deadline passed for the UK to request an extension to the transition period, during which the UK remains part of the EU’s single market, with London hinting that September, when Frost is due to take his new role as the UK government’s national security advisor, is its deadline for agreeing on a trade deal,

In recent weeks, EU officials had hinted that their position requiring the UK to stick to EU state aid rules and social and environmental standards, and keep to the provisions of the Common Fisheries Policy could be softened in return for compromise from the UK side.

Barnier said the UK needed to offer “sustainable and long-term solutions” on fisheries as well as an indication of what its domestic state aid subsidy regime is likely to look like.

Differences also remain on the role of the European Court of Justice, as the UK insists it will not be bound by its jurisdiction.

This week’s round had been intended as the first of a series of intensive talks with a view to reaching a ‘political agreement’ before the end of July, which now appears to be increasingly unlikely.

The next round had been timetabled for London next week.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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