Brexit: Trade talks between UK and European Union at a standstill

‘Very little progress’ made on most important issues

European Union's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier gives a news conference following the third round of Brexit talks with Britain, in Brussels on May 15, 2020.  Barnier on May 15 said he was disappointed by what he said was Britain's lack of ambition in pursuing a trade deal with Europe and deplored a lack of progress in the latest round of post-Brexit talks. Apart from some "modest openings", Barnier said "no progress has been possible on the more difficult subjects." 

Talks between the UK and European Union over a future trading relationship after Brexit have made “very little progress” on the most significant issues, according to London’s lead negotiator.

In a damning and strongly worded statement, David Frost said Brussels was making a set of “unbalanced proposals” that would tie the UK to the EU in an “unprecedented way”.

He said these ideas went against the principles established in the Political Declaration, which sets out the future relationship between the EU and UK.

Sterling fell on Friday, hitting its lowest for more than a month, as fears of a 'no-deal' Brexit remained.

Mr Frost was speaking following the third round of talks with his opposite number Michel Barnier, held over video conference.

Mr Barnier said “there was no progress on all the most difficult issues."

"We were also disappointed by the lack of ambition on the UK side in other areas too, which are not the centre of negotiations, but which are important and symbolic," he told a press conference.

Mr Frost said there needed to be a change to the EU’s approach by the time talks resume on June 1. Differences remain over fishing, open and fair competition, law enforcement, governance, security issues and aviation safety.

The UK left the EU on January 31 after years of wrangling over the terms of its departure.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to agree a trade deal by the end of year, something that was seen as highly optimistic even before the coronavirus outbreak. His predecessor Theresa May was forced out of office last year after failing to get her Brexit plan through parliament three times.

“The major obstacle to this is the EU’s insistence on including a set of novel and unbalanced proposals on the so-called “level playing field” which would bind this country to EU law or standards, or determine our domestic legal regimes, in a way that is unprecedented in Free Trade Agreements and not envisaged in the Political Declaration,” Mr Frost said.

“As soon as the EU recognises that we will not conclude an agreement on that basis, we will be able to make progress,” he added.

Mr Frost said “useful discussions” on fisheries – a highly sensitive topic for Brexiteers – were held, he criticised the EU for insisting on access to UK fishing waters “that is incompatible with our future status as an independent coastal state”.

“We are fully committed to agreeing fishing provisions in line with the Political Declaration, but we cannot agree arrangements that are manifestly unbalanced and against the interests of the UK fishing industry.”

“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 added.