France Accuses the U.K. of Dragging Its Feet in Brexit Talks

The U.K. is stalling discussions over a trade deal with the European Union and the outcome of the talks remains “highly uncertain,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a parliamentary committee in Paris.

The EU and the U.K. remain “extremely far apart” on the topic of fishing rights and there’s no convergence on the rules for fair competition, Le Drian told a hearing of the foreign affairs committee on Wednesday.

“The U.K. continues to drag out the discussions on side issues and is playing with the calendar,” Le Drian said. “We will not let the schedule take precedence over the content. It’s up to the British to abandon tactical postures and make the necessary gestures.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the coming days will be “decisive” for the negotiations and referred to a similar set of obstacles when she addressed the European Parliament Wednesday morning.

Talks are due to resume in London shortly after face-to-face discussions had to be halted when a EU official involved in the negotiations tested positive for the coronavirus. But the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has warned David Frost, his British counterpart, that there is little point in him traveling to London unless the U.K. is prepared to give ground, Les Echos reported.

Britain is due to leave the EU’s single market at the year-end, with or without a trade deal in place. Because the U.K. and European Parliaments each need time to give their approval, any deal needs to be struck weeks before then to be ratified and implemented in time.

No Deal?

With the negotiations hamstrung by disagreements in three key areas -- the level competitive playing field, access to British fishing waters, and how any agreement will be enforced -- both sides have sought to use time pressure to wring concessions out of the other.

The EU is studying procedures to allow a possible agreement to come into effect, even provisionally, from Jan. 1, according to Le Drian. But he stressed that the EU won’t be forced into a deal by the timetable.

“We hope for an agreement, but note that as of today we are not in step with being able to obtain it,” Le Drian said. “Sometimes, it’s better to have no deal than a bad deal.”

Le Drian repeated France’s stance that fishing won’t be used to extract trade-offs from the British in other areas. He said the U.K. is still seeking almost all of the fishing rights that EU boats have in British waters and there is disagreement over access to the area between 6 miles and 12 miles off the British coast where France claims historic rights in the Channel.

If no deal is reached, business and consumers will face the additional cost and disruption of quotas and tariffs. Such an outcome would cost the U.K. 2% of its economic output, the Office for Budget Responsibility said on Wednesday.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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