STATE OF PLAY
The EU and the UK have made only limited progress towards agreement on the most significant outstanding issues, during a third round of virtual negotiations, with both sides warning that the Brexit trade talks are at risk of collapsing without a deal.
Speaking at the conclusion of the 5-day session, UK Chief Negotiator David Frost said that it was “very clear that a standard comprehensive free trade agreement, with other key agreements on issues like law enforcement, civil nuclear, and aviation alongside, all in line with the political declaration, could be agreed without major difficulties in the time available”. However, he said that “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”. He added that “as soon as the EU recognises that we will not conclude an agreement on that basis, we will be able to make progress”.
EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier described progress as “disappointing”, warning that the two sides still have “very divergent” positions on the issues of fisheries while there was no “real discussion” on level playing field provisions. Referring to the role of the European Parliament and the UK Parliament in the implementation of the future agreement, he accused the UK of lacking ambition. He further said that “We are not going to bargain away our European values to the benefit of the British economy. Economic and trade fair play is not for sale. It is not a ‘nice to have,’ it is a ‘must have”, adding “We are prepared for all options. I’m still determined but not optimistic”.
The next and final round of talks before the June Summit will held during the weeks beginning 1 June. The UK Government said it intends to make public all of its draft legal texts next week.
In other news –
- The UK Cabinet has reportedly discussed plans to end the Brexit transition period without a deal, with a Government spokesperson saying that: “Cabinet agreed that we would not agree to their demands to give up our rights as an independent state, especially when the EU has shown through their agreements with other countries like Canada that these controls are not necessary.”
- The Telegraph reports that the EU has rejected British demands to allow UK-based testing laboratories to certify cars, chemicals and pharmaceutical products for export into the EU market. This could mean UK manufacturers will be forced to have products certified by EU-based authorities before they can be exported – something that would be prohibitively expensive for many businesses.
- EU diplomats have dismissed Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove’s suggestion that the EU and UK could negotiate a trade deal with tariffs on goods within six months, saying that Gove’s proposal was incompatible with the UK Government’s refusal to extend the transition period.
- The Commission has launched infringement proceedings against the UK, accusing it of failing to comply with EU law on free movement. In response, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove wrote to Maroš Šefčovič – the European Commission Vice-President and EU representative on the Joint Committee for the Withdrawal Agreement – to complain that UK nationals living on the continent are not seeing the same level of effort to protect their rights as are EU nationals in the UK.
- The UK Government has privately conceded that there will be post-Brexit checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea, with border control posts in three ports: Belfast, Warrenpoint and Larne. The UK Government has confirmed it will urgently put in place detailed plans with Norther Ireland Executive.
- OTHER KEY DEVELOPMENTS
- The Department for International Trade is reportedly preparing to offer a “big concession package” to US negotiators in the coming months which would reduce the cost of some agricultural imports, in order to advance progress on a trade deal. The proposal faces internal opposition from Environment Secretary George Eustice, who is concerned that cheaper US goods may undercut UK farmers.
- Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer has rejected calls for the Brexit transition period to be extended, saying that he would rather that Boris Johnson completed the negotiations “as quickly as possible”.
- A survey for Best for Britain, an NGO campaigning for close UK-EU relations, has found that 77% of people would welcome an extension of the transition period, as long as it is the EU that asks for it.