U.K.’s Frost Warns of Limited Progress in Brexit Talks With EU

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Britain’s top Brexit negotiator, David Frost, warned next week’s trade talks with the European Union may yield only limited progress amid growing concern the negotiations will ultimately fail.

In a sign that the two sides are digging in, Frost also backed calls from U.K. fishermen for a greater share of Europe’s catch. This week, Michel Barnier, the EU’s top negotiator accused the U.K. of refusing to engage constructively in the discussions.

“The EU still insists we change our positions on state aid and fisheries if there are to be substantive textual discussions on anything else,” Frost said on Twitter on Friday. “From the very beginning we have been clear about what we can accept in these areas, which are fundamental to our status as an independent country. We will negotiate constructively but the EU’s stance may, realistically, limit the progress we can make next week.”

Disagreement over fishing and the so-called level-playing field -- in particular, what EU state aid rules the U.K. will have to follow after leaving the bloc -- are the major obstacles to a trade deal. Without one, Britain will default at the end of the year to trading with the EU on terms set by the World Trade Organization, meaning the return of tariffs and quotas as well as extra paperwork for business.

Negotiators have scheduled eight hours of talks on fisheries and a further eight on the level playing field when they meet in London next week, according to an agenda published on Friday.

Fishing Impasse

The EU is seeking to keep the access its fisherman currently have to U.K. waters, fearing job losses and damage to coastal communities in countries like Ireland and Spain if their catches are reduced. The U.K. is pressing to reduce that access, making it conditional on regular negotiations.

On Friday, two of the U.K.’s biggest fishing groups said British vessels should be able to increase the share of fish they catch in the country’s coastal waters, saying the current quota allocations are “woefully unfair.” In a tweet, Frost said he welcomed the statement.

The EU has previously said a deal on the subject is a prerequisite for any wider trade deal with the U.K. Barnier, the bloc’s top negotiator, has said he is “worried” and “disappointed” by the current state of the talks, saying Britain will need to shift its position if it is to reach an agreement.

“Our goal remains to reach a deal, and we will continue to work to achieve that,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman Jamie Davies told reporters on Friday. “That requires more realism from the EU.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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