The United Kingdom and the European Union showed little sign of progress towards a deal on their post-Brexit relationship this week, failing to bridge differences over future competition and EU fishing access to British waters.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier told a news conference on Friday that the UK had set a tight deadline by ruling out an extension to the Brexit transition period beyond the end of 2020.
“The United Kingdom cannot impose this very short calendar for negotiations and at the same time not move, not progress on certain subjects that are important for the European Union,” he said.
The transition period could be extended by a year or two, but the UK would have to request this by the end of June. There are only two further weeks of negotiating rounds scheduled before then – from May 11 and June 1.
More than ever, we need to start making progress together in all areas. My remarks following today’s online press briefing on the 🇪🇺🇬🇧 negotiations. Looking forward to speaking to @DavidGHFrost and team again soon!https://t.co/kcLF0LH21L pic.twitter.com/lTLYmiIE3E
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) April 24, 2020
The UK described the second round of talks as “full and constructive”, but said in a statement the two sides had made limited progress in bridging gaps.
There were “significant differences of principle” and the EU was making demands it had not sought from other trading partners, it said. Brussels says the UK’s proximity and already close ties to Europe means it is an exceptional case.
The European Commission, which is negotiating on behalf of the 27 EU members, sent to London a 350-page text in March, setting out the EU’s position. Barnier said the UK had only sent texts back on certain subjects, and those remain confidential.
“We need to make progress on all issues in parallel. We need to find solutions for the most difficult topics. The UK cannot refuse to extend the transition and at the same time slow down discussions on important areas,” he said.
There were four areas in particular where progress was disappointing, he said.
The EU has insisted on guarantees of a level playing field, including in areas such as taxation and state aid. The UK said this was not found in other EU trade deals.
The talks had also highlighted problems surrounding governance of the future partnership. The EU wants a single framework to oversee all areas, while the UK wants separate agreements with separate arrangements, Barnier said.
The UK was failing to give firm guarantees on fundamental rights and insisted on lowering current standards and deviating from standards on data protection and this created “serious limitations” for a future security partnership, Barnier said.
Finally, the EU negotiator said the talks had made no tangible progress on fisheries.
“The EU will not agree to any future economic partnership that does not include a balanced, sustainable and long-term solution on fisheries,” said Barnier.
London said Brussels needed to accept the UK would control access to its waters at the end of this year and not simply demand the continuation of current quotas.
The UK formally left the bloc on January 31 this year, just before the coronavirus epidemic struck Europe.