LONDON (AP) — Negotiators working to establish new trade relations between Britain and the European Union admitted Thursday there was a long way to go despite progress being made in the complex talks.
In comments delivered at the end of the latest round of talks, Chief U.K. negotiator David Frost said it was now clear that an agreement on fundamental principles would not be reached this month as a basis for going forward. While EU proposals were welcome, Frost said substantial areas of disagreement remain, particularly on questions of fair and open competition and fishing.
“Considerable gaps remain in the most difficult areas, that is, the so-called level playing field and on fisheries,” Frost said. “We have always been clear that our principles in these areas are not simple negotiating positions but expressions of the reality that we will be a fully independent country at the end of the transition period.”
The U.K. left the political institutions of the EU on Jan. 31 but remains inside the EU’s tariff-free economic zone until the end of the year. The parties are trying to secure a new trade agreement before that deadline to avoid a “no deal” scenario which would see tariffs and other restrictions imposed on trade between the U.K. and the 27-nation bloc.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier agreed on the sticking points – but also made clear the consequences.
“By its current refusal to commit to conditions of open and fair competition and to a balanced agreement on fisheries, the U.K. makes a trade agreement, at this point, unlikely,” he said.
Speaking from London during a press conference, Barnier took up the hotly contested issue of fishing rights, and said the U.K. is asking for “near total exclusion of EU fishing vessels” from its waters, demands he deemed as “simply unacceptable.”
Barnier insisted there is an “objective risk” of not reaching a deal as long as the British demands on the level playing field and the fisheries remained the same.
“We only have a few weeks left, and we should not waste them,” Barnier said, noting that the U.K. did not show enough willingness to break the deadlock.
Frost agreed that no deal remains a risk. He said a deal between the EU and U.K. “can still be reached in September” – if the EU moves.
“We’re in a negotiation. Either outcome is possible,” he said. “We will work energetically to get a deal but it is possible we won’t reach one.”
Petrequin reported from Brussels.