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Brexit: UK negotiator tells EU there is 'no basis' for further trade talks following EU summit

The Taoiseach has emphasised the importance of securing an agreement on fisheries if there was to be an overall trade deal.

Image: PA Images

Updated Oct 16th 2020, 5:30 PM

UK CHIEF NEGOTIATOR David Frost has told his EU counterpart Michel Barnier that there is “no basis for negotiations” following the European Council summit conclusions this week.

It comes after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the UK earlier to “get ready” for a no-deal outcome to the trade talks with the European Union.

A Number 10 spokesman said: “Frost has spoken to Michel Barnier to update the EU on the Prime Minister’s statement.

Lord Frost said that, as the PM had made clear, the European Council’s conclusions yesterday had left us without a basis to continue the trade talks without a fundamental change in the EU’s approach to these negotiations.

“There was accordingly no basis for negotiations in London as of Monday.

He and Michel Barnier agreed to talk again early next week.

Earlier, Frost had said the UK was “disappointed” by the outcome of the EU summit in which the bloc signalled it was willing to continue trade negotiations but called on Britain to make the next move.

Johnson said his judgment was that the UK should prepare for an Australia-style deal in the EU trade talks.

Speaking to broadcasters, he said: “From the outset we were totally clear that we wanted nothing more complicated than a Canada-style relationship based on friendship and free trade.

“To judge by the latest EU summit in Brussels, that won’t work for our EU partners.

They want the continued ability to control our legislative freedom, our fisheries in a way that is completely unacceptable to an independent country.

“And since we have only 10 weeks until the end of the transition period on January 1, I have to make judgment about the likely outcome and get us ready.

“And given that they have refused to negotiate seriously for much of the last few months and given that this summit appears explicitly to rule out a Canada-style deal, I’ve concluded that we should get ready for January 1 with arrangements that are more like Australia’s based on simple principles of global free trade.”

belgium-eu-summit Source: Olivier Hoslet, Pool via AP

In a statement given just before 3pm this afternoon, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he wasn’t going to engage in a “negotiation process via the megaphone or in a public way”.

“Suffice to say I think Britain has an enormous amount to gain through access to the European Single Market,” he said.

Historically the UK and Europe have very close relationships. Obviously it’s been a member state for quite a long time now and therefore the nature of this type of negotiation is different perhaps to previous negotiations with third countries.

“And I think to be fair to the European side they have taken that into account because essentially Britain has been offered zero-tariff, zero-quota access to the single market and to me a good deal is there to be done if you look at the big picture, in terms of jobs and protection of the economy and access to a huge market.

That’s a big prize waiting there, in my view, for the UK economy and so I think it would make sense that the talks would continue next week and would be brought to a conclusion in the best interests of everybody.

He added: “A lot of substance has been negotiated already, it’s not a simple matter of taking some deal off the table and handing it to somebody.

“This is a deal that will have to sustain long into the future, will have to represent the underpinning of a strong relationship geo-politically into the future between Britain and the EU.

“Britain and Europe have a lot in common and I think there is a desire on all sides for a constructive close relationship with the UK – and that’s what I picked up from the meeting last evening.”


Johnson last month proposed that both sides should walk away from the talks and prepare for a no-deal outcome if there was no agreement by the European Council meeting on 15 October.

But, in a text adopted by the summit of EU leaders on the day of the deadline, they “invited” Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier to continue his discussions while urging the UK to “make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible”.

Frost branded the response “unusual” in a statement released later. He tweeted: “Disappointed by the European Council conclusions on UK/EU negotiations.

“(I’m) surprised the EU is no longer committed to working ‘intensively’ to reach a future partnership as agreed with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on 3 October.

Also surprised by the suggestion that to get an agreement all future moves must come from the UK. It’s an unusual approach to conducting a negotiation.

“Prime Minister Boris Johnson will set out UK reactions and approach tomorrow in the light of his statement of September 7.”

In his call with von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel, Johnson expressed “disappointment” that the talks had not made more progress.

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However, there is scepticism in Brussels that Downing Street would be prepared to pull the plug on the negotiations.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said: “Britain has already imposed so many deadlines that came and went.”

Meanwhile, Michel told a press conference that Brussels would decide in the coming days, based on the UK’s next proposals, whether it should continue with trade talks.

“We are clear that we are determined to negotiate, we are determined to reach an agreement but we know there are some difficult topics,” he said.

“It is the case for fisheries, certainly, and also for level playing field and also governance.”

All sides have acknowledged that the question of future fishing rights once the current Brexit transition period ends at the end of the year remains among the most difficult issues to be resolved.

French president Emmanuel Macron, who is under pressure from fishermen in his country who fear losing access to British waters, indicated that he was prepared to take a hard line.

“Under any circumstance, our fishermen should not be sacrificed for Brexit,” he said.

“If these conditions are not met, it’s possible we won’t have a deal. If the right terms can’t be found at the end of these discussions, we’re ready for a no-deal for our future relations.”

Meanwhile, von der Leyen announced that she had to pull out of the summit to self-isolate after a member of her staff tested positive for coronavirus, even though the German politician tested negative.

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