Lord Frost, Britain’s chief negotiator with the EU, pushed to hold talks over a legal text on the bloc’s demands for a regulatory level-playing field after the end of the post-Brexit transition period. But Michel Barnier has refused to discuss the proposals because they fall short of his expectations. After the end of the eighth round of talks, the EU negotiator accused his UK counterparts of tabling lacklustre plans on state aid, environmental and workers’ rights standards.
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.
Speaking after the negotiations, Lord Frost said: “We have just completed our eighth round of negotiations with the EU. We covered all issues in some detail, including the most difficult ones.
“These were useful exchanges. However, a number of challenging areas remain and the divergences on some are still significant.
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“We have been consistently clear from the start of this process about the basis on which agreement is possible between us. Those fundamentals remain.
“We have engaged in discussions in all areas. We have consistently made proposals which provide for open and fair competition, on the basis of high standards, in a way which is appropriate to a modern free trade agreement between sovereign and autonomous equals.”
He agreed to hold further talks with Mr Barnier in Brussels next week in the hope of breaking the deadlock.
Both chief negotiators are intent on keeping the trade talks afloat despite significant tensions between both sides because of legislation published by Downing Street which hands ministers the powers to overwrite the Withdrawal Agreement signed with the bloc last year.
UK sources suggested both sides are beginning to make progress in reaching agreements on fisheries, road haulage and nuclear cooperation.
It is still believed Mr Barnier’s “parallelism” policy is holding up genuine breakthroughs from being announced.
The Frenchman won’t hold talks on issues important to Britain unless UK negotiators make significant concessions on fisheries and the level-playing field.
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Mr Barnier said: “The EU remains committed to an ambitious future partnership with the UK. This would clearly be to the benefit of both sides. Nobody should underestimate the practical, economic and social consequences of a ‘no deal’ scenario.
“In order to maximise the chances of a deal, the EU has shown flexibility to work around the UK’s red lines and find solutions that fully respect the UK’s sovereignty. In particular with regard to the role of the European Court of Justice, the future legislative autonomy of the UK, and fisheries.”
The Brussels bureaucrat added: “The UK is refusing to include indispensable guarantees of fair competition in our future agreement, while requesting free access to our market.”
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But the EU has handed Downing Street a 20-day deadline to amend or scrap its Internal Market Bill, which the bloc claims breaks the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic traveled to London to issue the warning to Michael Gove in an ill-tempered meeting.
The top eurocrat said the bloc would not hold back in attempting to sue Britain or walk out of the trade talks.