Talks between Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost and his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, are set to resume this evening in Brussels. However, neither side is expecting a breakthrough, as outstanding issues over trade, fisheries and governance remain. Last week, Brussels claimed it was still working “constructively” but suggested that Mr Frost had failed to make the necessary concessions.
European Commission spokesman Daniel Farrie said: “The EU is acting constructively and in good faith, as Michel Barnier pointed out earlier this week.
“We are working hard to overcome the significant divergences that remain between us.”
Asked if there were positives from this week’s talks, Mr Farrie added: “My answer will be very, very short there. We are working towards an agreement.”
As tensions are set to rise and the end of the transition period approaches, unearthed reports shed light on the “punishment agenda” adopted by Brussels since the 2016 EU referendum.
A throwback report by the Daily Express cited a private briefing, which claimed that in 2018 the EU pressured Switzerland not to make a bilateral deal with Britain after Brexit.
The news raised concerns that the EU was secretly pursuing an aggressive agenda against the UK at the same time that it was trying to force Britain to agree to “full regulatory alignment” with Brussels and give up the opportunity to compete.
The Commission denied the allegations with a spokeswoman describing them as “invented”.
However, several senior MPs told the Daily Express that the warning was issued by senior Swiss sources.
A Government minister said: “Basically they are trying to squeeze Switzerland by the *****.
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“We were informed in no uncertain terms that the EU is saying to Switzerland that it cannot have a bilateral agreement with Britain.
“It has to choose between Britain and the EU. As things stand, obviously, it will choose the EU.”
Another MP who received the same warning said: “Obviously it is deeply concerning and this has serious implications for financial services.”
Brexiteers reacted with fury to the briefing and warned that it put the Brexit negotiations in question.
Conservative MP Peter Bone said: “If this is true it is absolutely appalling and flies in the face of the EU’s claims that it is not trying to punish Britain for Brexit.
“The European Commission needs to come clean about what it is up to.
“Under Article 50 the EU should be negotiating in good faith but this sort of behaviour suggests that it is not.
“There isn’t any way we could do a deal if the EU is going to act in this way. If they are making these threats to Switzerland then you can bet they are doing it with other countries too.”
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Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice added: “These accusations are extremely serious and the Government should investigate as a matter of urgency.
“If the EU is pursuing a ‘punishment agenda’ and is not serious about negotiating a trade deal with Britain, then there is absolutely no reason to continue trade talks.
“Britain should instead revert to the alternative deal based on World Trade Organisation rules which is absolutely fine for the UK.
“This would mean no implementation period and no more British money going to fund the greedy EU.”
In February 2019, the UK and Switzerland ended up signing a deal to continue trading after Brexit as they did before it.
The “continuity agreement” – based on the EU’s existing free trade deal with Switzerland – was agreed in December but ratified two months later.
However, it immediately received sharp criticism, as it failed to protect about half of current commerce and “differed significantly from the EU-Swiss agreements it replaced”.
A committee of peers warned the agreement did not cover services.
The report said: “Most trade in services, which make up 52 percent of all UK-Swiss trade, is not covered by the deal.”