Mr Barnier hits out at Boris Johnson in an online news conference.

Barnier claimed progress in discussions about a future UK-EU trade deal had been “unsatisfactory” following a round of talks by video conference which broke yesterday with a string of problems unresolved.

Sharp differences remained within the EU’s demand into UK waters and the bloc’s refusal to consent to a free trade deal similar to its current arrangements with Canada for uninterrupted access for European fishing fleets. Mr Barnier hit out in Boris Johnson’s negotiating group in an online news conference following the most recent round of discussions lunchtime yesterday. He explained that the “clock was ticking” and urged the UK Government to extend the transition period if it was not ready to shift on the outstanding difficulties. 

“The UK cannot refuse to expand the position, and in the exact same time, slow down discussions on important areas. “The UK cannot enforce this short, brief timeline, and in precisely the same time not budget to generate progress on the topics which are of importance to the EU,”. Mr Barnier said that “progress this week was unsatisfactory” in four areas, including the EU’s requirement for a “level playing field” of regulations, including unchanged fishing quotas and a continued power for the European Court of Justice to intervene in trade disputes. 

“The UK didn’t want to commit seriously on a number of basic factors,” he said. “We will need to find solutions for the most difficult topics. The UK can’t refuse to extend the transition and at the exact same time, slow down discussions on important places.” Mr Barnier accused the Prime Minister’s chief EU negotiator David Frost of getting “failed to engage substantially” on the subject of a regulatory level playing field. 

Whitehall sources described the talks as “constructive” but confessed substantial disagreements remained. A UK Government spokesman said: “This was a full and constructive negotiating round, conducted remotely by video conference, also with a complete range of talks across all of the topics, based on the extensive legal texts provided by both sides lately. “However, limited progress has been made in bridging the gaps between the EU. 

“Our assessment is that there was some promising convergence in the centre regions of a Free Trade Agreement, such as on products and services trade, and related issues like energy, transportation, and civil nuclear cooperation. “This considerably reduces the practical value of the zero-tariff zero quota aspiration we both share. “Additionally, there are significant differences of principle in different areas. For example, we will not make progress on the so-called ‘level playing field’ and the governance provisions until the EU drops its insistence on imposing conditions on the UK that are not found in the EU’s other trade agreements and which do not take account of the fact that we’ve left the EU as an independent state. 

“On fisheries, the EU’s mandate seems to need us to accept a continuance of their present quotas consented under the Common Fisheries Policy. “We shall be able to make progress here based on this fact that the UK will have the right to control access to its waters at the end of the season. “We need to proceed constructively. “We look forward to negotiating constructively within the next round start on May 11 and to locating a balanced overall solution that reflects the political realities on both sides.” Senior figures in Brussels have warned the coronavirus pandemic signifies the schedule for finishing the transition period cannot be fulfilled. Still, Mr Johnson has remained opposed to any further delay. Two week-long rounds of discussions between the sides have been scheduled, beginning on May 11 and June 1.

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