BRUSSELS – The European Union and Britain remained deadlocked Friday in their talks on trade ties after Brexit, with EU negotiator Michel Barnier saying that any chance of a deal seemed to be slipping away.
“Too often this week it felt as if we were going backwards more than forward given the short time left,” he said in a damning assessment of the negotiations.
“I simply do not understand why we are wasting valuable time,” he said after the 7th round of talks concluded with little reported progress.
The British side left just as frustrated, saying the EU kept insisting that Britain would have to continue to adhere to EU rules for full free trade even though the nation left the bloc on Jan. 31.
“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,” said U.K. negotiator David Frost.
Barnier said the effective deadline for the talks was the end of October to allow for legal vetting and national approvals before any deal comes into force on Jan. 1, 2021, when Britain's transition period from member state to non-EU member ends.
“I am disappointed and worried,” Barnier said. He added that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has yet to live up to his promise to instill a sense of urgency in the talks.
The parties disagree on rules for state aid for businesses and on fisheries, with the U.K. opposed to EU demands for long-term access to British waters. Both say they want to avoid a “no deal” scenario that would see tariffs and other restrictions imposed on trade.
Frost was not only criticized by the EU for his negotiating stance, but also from within Britain, as Scotland sided with Barnier. Scotland was one of the U.K.'s nations to vote to remain in the EU during the 2016 referendum, and its continued criticism of London underscores the rift Brexit has left in the nation.
“It is unforgiveable for the U.K. government to be recklessly running down the clock and causing maximum economic uncertainty," said Scotland's External Affairs Secretary Michael Russell. “The U.K. government must start to put jobs before its hard Brexit ideology.”
Britain is seeking a free-trade pact similar to one the EU negotiated with Canada. The EU wants to ensure both sides have similar rules on a wide range of issues, including workers’ rights, the environment and government subsidies, before discussing such an agreement.