Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, looked visibly perturbed on Friday when discussing this week’s trade deal negotiations, accusing the UK of not showing “willingness to move forward”.
The Frenchman confirmed at a press conference that the bloc had received Britain’s draft legal text after finishing the seventh round of talks between the two sides.
“Those who were hoping for negotiations to move on swiftly forward this week will have been disappointed,” he said after two days of talks with British diplomats and a private dinner with his UK counterpart, David Frost, in Brussels.
He accused Britain of wasting time in the talks. “Unfortunately I too have been frankly disappointed as well, I must say. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told us in June that he wished to speed up.
“Once again, as in the July round [of talks], the British negotiators have not shown any real willingness to move forward on issues fundamental to the European Union.”
Britain wants a Canada-style comprehensive free-trade deal and agreements on fishing rights, judicial co-operation and other areas including energy, aviation and civil nuclear co-operation.
But London has been frustrated with Brussels because of its insistence that Britain closely aligns itself with EU state aid rules in exchange for a free-trade deal. Brussels fears that generous UK subsidies to British companies could prevent “a level playing field” with EU businesses.
Mr Barnier noted that the bloc and the UK had little time left to secure a trade agreement, with only four months and 10 days until the end of the transition period on January 1.
Mr Frost released a statement after the talks sounding slightly more optimistic but said a trade deal “would not be easy to achieve”.
Although he said the discussions this week were useful he warned there was little progress.
On Thursday, Mr Frost gave Mr Barnier a new draft of a free-trade agreement – or a “consolidated legal text” – to try to break the deadlock and speed up an agreement. Although Mr Barnier said the text was useful to further understand the British stance, he said it did not address the bloc’s red lines on the “level playing field”, environmental standards, labour rights and state aid to give the UK tariff-free access to the EU single market.
“The EU is still insisting not only that we must accept continuity with EU state aid and fisheries policy, but also that this must be agreed before any further substantive work can be done in any other area of the negotiation, including on legal texts. This makes it unnecessarily difficult to make progress,” Mr Frost said.
“There are other significant areas which remain to be resolved and, even where there is a broad understanding between negotiators, there is a lot of detail to work through. Time is short for both sides.”
The tone from this week's talks seemed less optimistic than the July talks in which Mr Frost had said that an agreement could be reached in September, if “significant areas” were resolved.
The negotiators have agreed to remain in close contact over the coming two weeks before the next round of talks in London during the week of September 7.