The European Union’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said he is worried at the lack of progress in the latest round of Brexit trade talks, warning that a deal looked unlikely.
Barnier lodged his warning on Friday at the close of the seventh round of trade talks, which again got stuck on key issues, mainly fishing rights and competition rules.
“Those who were hoping for negotiations to move swiftly forward this week will have been disappointed,” Barnier told reporters after the round ended in Brussels.
“And, unfortunately, I too am frankly disappointed and concerned and surprised as well,” he said.
Both sides are pushing to have a deal in place by the end of a post-Brexit transition period that ends on December 31.
The Europeans said this requires an agreement by October, leaving just two more months to find common ground while the toughest obstacles remain.
“Too often this week it felt as if we were going backwards rather than forwards,” Barnier said.
“At this stage, an agreement between the UK and European Union seems unlikely,” he added. “I simply do not understand why we are wasting valuable time.”
If no deal is struck, ties will default to minimum standards set by the World Trade Organization, bringing higher tariffs and making onerous demands on business and bring chaos to the cross-Channel border.
A European source said the UK was pushing to delay negotiation on toughest issues until as late as possible, a strategy that frustrates Brussels.
“On these two pillars of a future agreement, the stalemate continues. You can’t keep moving forward on other issues when you have a gaping hole on the core issues,” the source said.
The next round of talks will be held in London on September 7.