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Brexit: Michel Barnier says UK-EU trade deal ‘UNLIKELY’

EU negotiator Michel Barnier blasted the UK today as he warned a trade deal is ‘unlikely’ before the end of the year.

He lashed out at Britain over its hardline position on fishing rights in territorial waters after the transition period ends on December 31 as talks ended without breakthrough in London.

Mr Barnier used a press conference to warn that the EU would not accept a deal that resulted in the ‘partial destruction’ of the EU fishing industry, but would continue with talks to ‘the last moment’.

‘By its current refusal to commit to conditions of open and fair competition and to a balanced agreement on fisheries, the UK makes a trade agreement – at this point – unlikely,’ Mr Barnier said.

Speaking after this week’s round of negotiations in London, Barnier said there been no progress at all on the question of ensuring fairness on state aid.

‘The time for answers is quickly running out,’ he told a news conference, referring to the five months left before the end of Britain’s transition period since it formally left the EU at the end of January. ‘If we do not reach an agreement on our future partnership there will be more friction.’

UK negotiator David Frost admitted ‘considerable gaps’ remain between the two sides but help out hope for a deal to be struck after some concession in other areas of conflict.

But he confirmed the two sides remained at loggerheads over fishing rights in UK waters and the ‘level playing field’ on standards.

In a statement this morning Mr Frost said: ‘When the next round of negotiations begins there will be not much more than four months left until the end of the transition period.

‘Although we will continue energetically to seek an agreement with the EU, we must face the possibility that one will not be reached, and we must therefore continue preparing for all possible scenarios for the end of the transition period at the end of this year.

No agreement has been reached over a dispute mechanism but the EU has recognised that the European Court of Justice is a sticking point for the UK, said a Government source.

Speaking to reporters, the senior source involved in the talks said: ‘No… we are in the talks process and we’re both exploring where we are.

‘But what I think is clear is that they have understood that the presence of the Court of Justice in an agreement between us is essentially a non-starter for us for all the obvious reasons.

‘They have indicated flexibility on this – we don’t know exactly what that means but they have obviously heard and understood that point of concern to us.’

They added that there was ‘a lot of precedents’ in free trade deals for the ‘kind of dispute resolutions we could have’.

Discussing a deal by September, they added: ‘It can be done, there is a way to do it, but we cannot be sure we will get there.’ 

Britain is keen to strike out alone after Brexit, pursuing trade deals with other countries and setting its own sanctions regime, and again Frost said the EU’s proposals failed to meet the government’s demand to be treated as an independent country.

Frost said the chance of reaching an ‘early understanding on the principles underlying any agreement’ would not be reached in July, with the two sides unable to breach the gap over fair competition and fisheries.

Mr Barnier said: ‘In June the Prime Minister Boris Johnson told us that he wanted to reach a political agreement quickly.

‘The Prime Minister also stated three red lines.

‘Number one; no role for the European Court of Justice in the UK.

‘Number two; the right to determine future UK laws without constraints.

‘Number three; an agreement on fisheries that shows that Brexit makes a real difference compared to the existing situation.

‘We have tried to understand how these three red lines can be squared with our commitment to a comprehensive new partnership as set out in the Political Deceleration signed by Prime Minister Johnson on 17 of October last year.’

He said the EU had engaged ‘sincerely’, adding: ‘Over the past few weeks the UK has not shown the same level of engagement and readiness to find solutions respecting the EU fundamental principles and interests.’

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