EU, U.K. Warn of Big Disagreements After Intensive Brexit Talks
Pedestrians wave European Union and British Union flags in Grand Place square in Brussels, Belgium. (Photographer: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Bloomberg)

EU, U.K. Warn of Big Disagreements After Intensive Brexit Talks

The European Union and U.K.’s top Brexit negotiators warned of big disagreements between the two sides after 14 days of intense, round-the-clock discussions failed to yield a breakthrough.

The two sides will begin their final round of scheduled talks over their future trade and security relationship in London next week after deliberations broke up on Wednesday without an agreement in sight.

Less than two weeks before their self-imposed deadline to reach a deal, the U.K. and EU are still at loggerheads over three issues that have dogged the negotiations since they began eight months ago: access to British fishing waters, the level playing field for business, and how any accord is enforced.

“These are essential conditions for any economic partnership,” Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said on Twitter. “Despite EU efforts to find solutions, very serious divergences remain.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Barnier told a meeting of diplomats from the bloc’s 27 member states that the U.K. was holding up progress by refusing to compromise over these issues. The British government sees it the other way, and is pressing the EU to back down. Both sides say they want a deal.

“Progress made, but I agree with @MichelBarnier that wide divergences remain on some core issues,” Barnier’s opposite number, David Frost, said in a Tweet. “We continue to work to find solutions that fully respect U.K. sovereignty.”


The level playing field -- measures to prevent U.K. companies from unfairly undercutting their European competitors -- continues to be one of the most difficult issues, Barnier told the meeting, according to people familiar with the discussion.

The U.K. is refusing to back down from its refusal to commit to clauses that would stop it from diluting its existing competition rules. The country is also unwilling to sign up to mechanisms to co-operate on strengthening those rules in the future. The EU wants to develop a mechanism to develop joint standards over time.

On fishing, Barnier said he is opposed to any deal that would make access to U.K. waters subject to annual negotiations, but added there is a deal to be done on the subject.

Despite the negative tone, Barnier also told the envoys that considerable progress has been made on less controversial subjects, including police and judicial cooperation, with agreement on some items now set down in legal text.

The U.K. will leave the bloc’s single market with or without a deal when the post-Brexit transition period ends on Dec 31. Both sides say they need a minimum of six weeks to ratify any agreement in their respective parliaments, meaning a deal needs to be struck by mid-November for it to be implemented in time.

Failure to strike a deal will leave the U.K. trading with tariffs and quotas and without any cooperation arrangements in place in areas such as security, law enforcement and transport.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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