“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 seek unfair access to fishing waters.
The EU’s Michel Barnier suggested the UK’s own demands were “not realistic” and warned of a looming stalemate.
Speaking in Brussels, the bloc’s chief negotiator said the EU’s aim was a “modern, forward-looking” agreement which would avoid any tariffs or quotas on trade.
But he said the current talks would shape the relationship between the UK and EU for “decades to come” and the EU would not do a deal “at any price”.
Asked by the BBC’s Europe editor Katya Adler what the chances were of an agreement, he said he was “still determined but not optimistic”, adding that the EU was “stepping up preparations” for a no-deal outcome.
He insisted the EU would not negotiate “in haste” and 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” in relation to competition issues that went well beyond other comparable trade agreements struck with other major economies.
The UK, he said, would not agree to “a so-called level playing field which would bind this country to EU law or standards, or determine our domestic legal regimes”.
A level playing field is a term for a set of common rules and standards that prevent businesses in one country undercutting their rivals and gaining a competitive advantage over those operating in other countries.
The EU, Mr Frost added, was seeking continued 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 EU 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 accept an agreement “sliced up sector-by-sector” or one “rooted in past precedents”.
Tariff-free access to the EU’s single market 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.”
A “new dynamism” would be needed in the next round of talks to deliver “tangible progress”, he added.
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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