In comments delivered after the talks ended Thursday, chief U.K. negotiator David Frost said it was clear the two sides wouldn’t meet their goal of reaching an understanding on ``the principles underlying any agreement" this month.
While progress has been made in the negotiations, Frost said there is still substantial disagreement, particularly on questions of fair and open competition, and fishing. “Considerable gaps remain in the most difficult areas, that is, the so-called level playing field and on fisheries,″ Frost said in a statement. “We have always been clear that our principles in these areas are not simple negotiating positions but expressions of the reality that we will be a fully independent country at the end of the transition period.″
The U.K. left the EU on Jan. 31, but the free movement of people and goods remains in place as part of a transition period that runs through the end of this year. The parties are trying to secure a new trade agreement before that deadline to avoid a “no deal” scenario that would see tariffs and other restrictions imposed on trade between the U.K. and the 27-nation bloc.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said a deal needs to be reached by October to ensure it can be implemented by Dec. 31. “By its current refusal to commit to conditions of open and fair competition and to a balanced agreement on fisheries, the U.K. makes a trade agreement, at this point, unlikely,″ Barnier said at a press conference in London.
Britain is seeking a free-trade pact similar to one the EU recently negotiated with Canada. The EU wants to ensure both sides have similar rules on a wide range of issues, including workers' rights, the environment and government subsidies, before it is willing to discuss such an agreement.
Britain also wants to regain control of fishing in its territorial waters, which have been governed by EU rules for more than 40 years. Foreign boats account for about 60% of the fish caught in U.K. waters.
Barnier said the U.K. is asking for the “near-total exclusion of EU fishing vessels” from its waters, a demand he deemed “simply unacceptable.” The is an “objective risk” of not reaching a deal as long as British demands remain unchanged, he said.
“We only have a few weeks left, and we should not waste them,” Barnier said, noting that the U.K. hadn’t shown enough willingness to break the deadlock. Frost agreed that no deal remains a risk. An agreement is still possible by September if the EU alters its position, he said.
“We’re in a negotiation. Either outcome is possible,″ he said. “We will work energetically to get a deal but it is possible we won’t reach one.”
Petrequin reported from Brussels.