British officials feel Downing Street’s bombshell legislation led to an “outbreak of reality” across EU capitals, which could usher in a drastic shift to the bloc’s refusal to budge on key issues. No 10 hopes a move to hand ministers powers to overwrite key elements of the Northern Ireland border plan agreed as part of last year’s Withdrawal Agreement has forced EU leaders to finally concede “what is at stake”. Relations with the EU were left in tatters after the publication of the Internal Market Bill earlier this week sparked allegations Britain could not trusted enough to continue trade talks.
During the mudslinging, Michel Barnier, the bloc’s chief negotiator, accused his counterpart Lord Frost of not engaging seriously in the talks.
But British officials hit back at the allegations, insisting it was Brussels’ refusal to respect Britain’s sovereignty that was scuppering progress.
A UK source close to the negotiations said: “We don’t recognise the suggestion that we’ve not engaged. We’ve been engaged in talks pretty consistently for many months now.
“The problem is the EU seems to define it as accepting large elements of their position rather than being engaged in discussions and that’s one of the problems we’ll need to overcome.”
Because of the rancorous exchanges, Downing Street now expects influential European leaders, including France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel, to pay closer attention to the talks.
Mr Johnson is keen for his counterparts to understand his Brexit-backing Government will not suddenly ditch its fundamental position on sovereignty in order to broker a deal.
The Prime Minister has ordered his EU negotiators to hold firm amid suggestions a political intervention could encourage a series of concessions from Downing Street.
“Talks this week have been relatively more constructive than you might expect, but ultimately progress will be determined by whether we get more realism from them on the key areas of divergence,” a senior UK negotiating official said.
“Whilst we are beginning to get discussions of substance of some issues, big important areas remain unresolved. We will carry on talking in Brussels next week.”
The Prime Minister is understood to be seething with Mr Barnier’s thinly veiled threat to cut off food supplies to Northern Ireland.
The Brussels negotiator claimed Britain had not submitted enough details to remain on the EU’s list of safe third-country exporters.
It is expected his outburst will further harden Downing Street’s resolve in the battle over a free-trade agreement in the coming weeks.
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With time running out to broker a trade deal, Lord Frost hoped to begin work on a legal text because of the complexity of the issue.
Express.co.uk understands the EU’s negotiating team refused to budge on its plan to keep Britain tied to the bloc’s state subsidies policy.
But British officials believe Mr Barnier is softening his approach in the talks that could allow for the bloc to finally make concessions.