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Post-Brexit deadlock: EU and UK still can't agree on level-playing field and fisheries

“On State aid, we have made no progress at all,” Michel Barnier said.

THE EU’S CHIEF Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost have said there was little-to-no progress made on the main stumbling blocks of post-Brexit trade talks – the level playing field provisions, and fisheries.

“It is unfortunately clear that we will not reach in July the ‘early understanding on the principles underlying any agreement’,” Frost said in a statement after the latest round of negotiations ended in London.

“The UK makes a trade agreement, at this point, unlikely,” Barnier said in a press conference this afternoon, saying that the UK was refusing to commit to conditions on open and fair competition, and to a balanced agreement on fisheries.

This is the fifth bout of negotiations about the post-Brexit trading relationship between the EU and the UK. These negotiations also cover the Northern Ireland Protocol, security arrangements, and what body will oversee how any new deal would be implemented.

The level-playing field and fisheries

The largest stumbling blocks in post-Brexit trade talks, which began in the spring of this year, have been the level-playing field provisions and fisheries. On these issues, Barnier said today that the UK “did not show a willingness to break the deadlock”.

“On State aid, we have made no progress at all,” he said, adding that this was more worrying because they have no visibility on the UK’s future intentions. “The EU refuses to foot the bill for the UK’s choices.”

On fisheries, Barnier said that the UK was “effectively asking for near-total exclusion of EU vessels from UK waters”, which he said was “simply unacceptable” – though acknowledged that an agreement would likely mean “a change to the benefit of UK fishermen”.

Common stocks need to be managed jointly according to international law, Barnier said, adding that any agreement cannot lead to the “partial destruction” of the EU’s fishing industries.

“We have to agree to a balanced sustainable solution to fisheries,” he said.

Frost reiterated that the UK is looking for a trade deal similar to Canada – which he described as “an agreement based on existing precedents” – but the EU dismissed this before as not possible/comparable because of the UK’s proximity to the EU.

Frost said today: “We remain unclear why this is so difficult for the EU, but we will continue to negotiate with this in mind.

A tight timeline and uncertainty

Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month said he wanted British business to know by the end of July whether a deal was within striking distance or if they should start preparing for a messy no-deal split when the post-Brexit transition period ends on 31 December.

Barnier said today that he understood the urge for clarity in the short-term, but added that this wouldn’t be at the long-term cost of EU businesses.

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Barnier and other EU figures have said that an agreement needs to be reached by October, in order to leave enough time to ratify the agreement in both Westminster and the European Parliament before the deadline of 31 December.

Frost said that “Despite all the difficulties, on the basis of the work we have done in July, my assessment is that agreement can still be reached in September, and that we should continue to negotiate with this aim in mind”.

Barnier concluded today:

Today, I want to reaffirm the EU’s willingness to reach an agreement… This is also the wish of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, the European Parliament and the EU 27. Because it is simply in our common interest to cooperate.   

This was the fifth round of talks, held in Brussels, the next round is being held in London and begins on 17 August.

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