Brexit: UK warns ‘very little progress’ made in EU trade talks

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“Very little progress” has been made in the latest round of UK-EU trade talks, the UK government has said.

The UK’s negotiator David Frost said a far-reaching free trade agreement could be agreed before the end of the year “without major difficulties”.

But it was being held up by the EU’s desire to “bind” the UK to its laws and have unfair access to fishing waters.

The EU’s Michel Barnier said the UK wanted “the best of both worlds” and warned of a looming stalemate.

Speaking in Brussels, the bloc’s chief negotiator said the EU’s aim was a “modern, forward-looking” trade agreement which would avoid any tariffs or quotas on trade.

But he said the agreement would shape the relationship between the UK and EU for “decades to come” and the EU would “not negotiate in haste”.

Ahead of a crunch meeting next month to determine progress, he suggested the UK must consider whether it was feasible to strike a deal before the end of 2020, when the current 11-month transition period is due to end.

The UK has said it will not extend the process beyond 31 December, despite coming under growing pressure at home to allow more time for a deal due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The two sides have been discussing their future economic and security partnership following the UK’s withdrawal from the 27-member bloc on 31 January.

In a statement, Mr Frost said there was a “good understanding” between the negotiators but that little or no progress had been on the most “significant outstanding issues”.

‘Novel and balanced’

He said the EU was insisting upon a “set of novel and unbalanced proposals” that went well beyond other trade agreements struck with other countries.

This, he said, would result “in a so-called level playing field which would bind this country to EU law or standards, or determine our domestic legal regimes”.

The EU, he added, was continuing to seek access to UK fishing waters after the transition period “in a way that is incompatible with our future status as an independent coastal state”.

“It is hard to understand why the EU insists on an ideological approach which makes it more difficult to reach a mutually beneficial agreement,” he said.

“We very much need a change in EU approach for the next round beginning on 1 June.

“The UK will continue to work hard to find an agreement, for as long as there is a constructive process in being, and continues to believe that this is possible.”

Open and fair’

Mr Frost said the UK would make public all its draft legal texts next week so “the EU’s Member States and interested observers can see our approach in detail”.

In his remarks, Mr Barnier said he understood the UK’s desire to have a “best of” agreement in key areas that matched agreements the EU had with Canada, Japan and South Korea.

But he said the EU would not tolerate an agreement “sliced up sector-by-sector” or one “rooted in past precedents”.

Access to EU markets had to be accompanied by obligations, he added, and the UK could not “pick and choose” which of these it adhered to.

“You cannot have the best of both worlds,” he said. “Open and fair competition is not a nice to have. It is a must-have.”

He said a “new dynamism” would be needed in the next round of talks to deliver “tangible progress”.

Mr Barnier said he would listen to concerns the UK had about the treatment of British expats on the continent as part of the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement governing the terms of the UK’s exit.

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