By Arj Singh
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The EU has said there are “serious difficulties” in the Brexit negotiations and warned that a trade deal may not be possible this year.
Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier accused the UK of “slowing down” the talks by failing to engage “seriously” on a number of key points.
He criticised Boris Johnson for “imposing” an “exceptional” timetable on the negotiations by refusing to extend the standstill transition period beyond December 31, and said the coronavirus crisis imposes additional responsibilities on the UK and EU to reach a deal.
“Never in the history of such important negotiations for any third country have we been under such time pressure,” he said.
“The UK therefore cannot impose this short brief timeline and at the same time not budge, make some progress, on some topics that are of importance to the EU.
“Otherwise one has to be seriously concerned in June as to whether or not the negotiations can have a successful issue.”
Officials from both sides have been negotiating this week in more than 40 video conference call calls.
But Barnier said only “very” partial progress has been made in the talks because the government has not engaged in four key areas outlined in the political declaration both sides ratified as part of the withdrawal agreement that took the UK out of the EU and triggered the transition.
- A “level playing field” with the UK and EU agreeing minimum standards on areas like workers’ rights and the environment. Johnson has ruled out signing up to one.
- How the future relationship will be governed. The EU is demanding a role for the European Court of Justice and is calling for the European Convention on Human Rights to be put in UK law.
- Personal data. Barnier accused the UK of refusing to “to provide firm guarantees rather than vague principles on fundamental rights and individual freedoms”.
- Fisheries. Barnier said there had been no progress in this thorny area and said there would be no overall deal unless the UK was prepared to negotiate a “balanced, sustainable and long-term solution”, with the EU demanding a continuation of the status quo on quotas and access to waters.
Barnier said his mandate was to get “tangible progress”, adding: “I’m afraid this has only been very partially met this week.
“The UK did not wish to commit seriously on a number of fundamental points. These are not points we just came up with – they are written quite precisely in the political declaration.
“It was discussed line by line with Boris Johnson and his team, point by point,” and approved by the Commons and European Parliament, Barnier said.
Barnier added it needs to be implemented in a “serious, objective, legal way”.
“This is not the case now yet in a number of areas. I regret that and it worries me.
“We cannot accept making selective progress on a limited set of issues only.
“We need to make progress on all issues in parallel – we need to find solutions on the most difficult topics.
“The UK cannot refuse to extend the transition and at the same time slow down discussions on important areas.”
Further rounds of negotiations have been scheduled for May 11 and June 1 for next rounds of talks.
The EU wants to see substantial progress by the end of June, which is the deadline for either side to ask for a transition extension and reach agreement on fisheries.