What are the main sticking points between the EU and UK negotiating teams?
The UK’s chief EU negotiator David Frost and his EU opposite number Michel Barnier have given their verdicts to the media at the end of a round of “intensified talks” in London.
Here are some of the key points to emerge:
– There are still ‘considerable gaps’ between both sides in key areas
Despite progress in some areas, Mr Frost warned “considerable gaps remain in the most difficult areas”.
Meanwhile on the EU side, Mr Barnier said: “This week again the UK did not show a willingness to break the deadlock.”
A senior UK official said issues over the level playing field, fisheries and a mechanism for resolving trade disputes remain outstanding.
– An ocean remains between the UK and EU on fisheries
One of the biggest areas of difference remains around the UK’s post-Brexit fisheries policy, with Mr Barnier describing the UK’s position as “simply unacceptable”.
He told a London press conference: “On fisheries, the UK is effectively seeking for near-total exclusion of fishing vessels from the UK’s water. That is simply unacceptable.”
Mr Frost said until the UK is able to control its fishing grounds “then it will be difficult to reach an agreement.”
A senior UK Government official close to the talks later confirmed a deal on fisheries is unlikely unless the EU accepts that the UK will control who can fish in British waters after the transition period.
– Playing hardball on the level playing field
The EU is concerned that the UK is straying from the previously agreed political declaration in terms of its approach to the so-called level playing field arrangements.
Mr Barnier said: “On the level playing field, the UK still refuses to commit to maintaining high standards in a meaningful way. On state aid, despite a clear warning in the political declaration, very clear, we have made no progress at all.
“This is all the more worrying because we have no visibility on the UK’s intention on its future domestic subsidy control system and regime.”
– The UK wants its sovereignty to be respected
Mr Frost said the EU must respect the UK as “an independent state”.
He added: “When we began this intensified negotiating process a month or so ago, the Prime Minister set out the principles to (European) Commission president Ursula von der Leyen that were intrinsic to our status and future as an independent state.
“And the EU has heard some of that but it hasn’t heard all of it and the big underlying difficulty is the fact (the EU) hasn’t yet recognised it needs to adapt its position to those principles if we’re going to reach an agreement.”
– However, there is hope that a deal can still be reached, possibly in September
Both sides believe a deal is possible, with the UK’s chief negotiator saying a deal is “possible in September”.
Mr Frost said in a statement: “Despite all the difficulties, on the basis of the work we have done in July, my assessment is that agreement can still be reached in September, and that we should continue to negotiate with this aim in mind.”
But if not, then October is the latest point for a deal to be reached, Mr Barnier warned.
He added: “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 unlikely.”
Mr Frost said: “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.”
– The UK’s negotiator reveals he has a ‘good relationship’ with his EU counterpart
Despite the cut-throat nature of the talks between both sides, Mr Frost said he enjoys a “good relationship” with his EU opposite number.
He added: “It has been very nice to meet face-to-face, and famously we have had a few dinners in this building and elsewhere in recent weeks.
“We get on well and I like to think we are both professional negotiators, we both have a position to deliver and we get on with doing that.”
Informal talks will resume next week, with the next round of negotiations planned for the end of August.