Michel Barnier rages at deadlock as UK trade talks resume

Michel Barnier accuses the UK of dragging its feet and warns that EU negotiations could collapse by June

  • Brussels chief negotiator Michel Barnier warns that negotiations could collapse
  • Mr Barnier accuses UK of dragging its feet amid dispute over fishing rights  
  • PM’s Brexit envoy tells Mr Barnier UK seeks Canada-style free trade agreement

Britain locked horns with the EU over fishing rights yesterday after the first post-Brexit trade talks in more than a month.

Brussels chief negotiator Michel Barnier accused the UK of dragging its feet and warned negotiations could collapse by June.

But Britain hit back, saying the EU is refusing to acknowledge its right to control access to its waters.

Michel Barnier, pictured above, said the hit to global economies caused by the coronavirus pandemic meant striking an agreement by the end of year was even more important

Little progress was also made on the role of European judges, competition and labour rules, and agreeing a more streamlined structure to a deal. 

Britain wants to treat fishing as a separate agreement to a trade deal but Brussels has insisted the two must be linked.

It is pushing for a Norway-style agreement, where access to waters for EU trawlers is re-negotiated every year. It also wants the current system of divvying up quotas scrapped.

The bloc wants the status quo to be maintained.

Britain locked horns with the EU over fishing rights yesterday after the first post-Brexit trade talks in more than a month [File photo]

Mr Barnier warned: ‘The EU will not agree to any future economic partnership that does not include a balanced, sustainable and long-term solution on fisheries. That should be crystal clear to the UK.’ 

Yesterday a UK government spokesman admitted little had been agreed, adding: ‘We will only be able to make progress on the basis of the reality the UK will have the right to control access to its waters at the end of this year.’

Britain has tabled the majority of its proposals in the trade talks. David Frost, who is Boris Johnson’s Brexit envoy, told Mr Barnier the UK was seeking a Canada-style free trade agreement, which would mean no guarantee of alignment with EU rules. 

Britain is also refusing demands for EU judges to have a role over trade disputes.

David Frost, who is Boris Johnson’s Brexit envoy, told Mr Barnier the UK was seeking a Canada-style free trade agreement, which would mean no guarantee of alignment with EU rules

The sides have not held formal negotiations since March 6 due to the coronavirus crisis. This week’s round of talks were held via video link and two more are scheduled for May 11 and June 1.

Mr Johnson has refused to extend the Brexit transition period beyond December 2020 to avoid getting sucked into demands for billions more in membership fees and having to prolong freedom of movement.

If it is not extended and the UK and EU cannot agree a deal, Britain will trade on World Trade Organisation terms from 2021.

Mr Barnier said the hit to global economies caused by the coronavirus pandemic meant striking an agreement by the end of year was even more important.

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