European Union leaders will need to change their negotiating mandate in UK trade talks for a deal to be struck, according to Boris Johnson’s Brexit chief.
Chief UK negotiator David Frost today said that the EU’s position would “need to evolve” on key areas such as fishing policy or else the UK will walk away from negotiations, and that Brussels needed to “assess reality” for talks to progress.
He added that the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier had “given a few public signals” that he knew Brussels’ position on EU access to UK fishing waters was “not a completely realistic position”.
The EU is asking for its member states to retain the same fishing access they had to UK waters as when Britain was in the EU – a position that has been described by Frost as “not a runner for us”.
Speaking to Westminster’s Brexit committee today, Frost said: “Michel Barnier has to work within the mandate given to him by member states.
“They, in their wisdom, thought in their opening pitch for this should be that as far as possible, the Common Fisheries Policy continues just as it was when we were a member.
“We find that a bit unusual, because in many areas they say nothing can be the same when we leave the EU and rightly so – it is different.”
The fourth round of trade talks between the two nations will take place next week, which will be the final round before the two sides assess if enough progress has been made to continue.
Crunch talks between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen are also planned for next month.
Frost said there would need to be movement from the EU’s member states for a deal to be ratified before the 31 December deadline, however he said that last year’s negotiations on the withdrawal agreement showed this was possible.
Alongside fishing policy, Frost said that business competition regulations – known as the so-called level playing field – were a major barrier to progress.
The EU is asking that the UK mirrors EU regulations on things like labour laws, environmental protection and state aid to the private sector.
In return, Brussels will continue to trade with the UK on a zero-tariff basis.
Frost said that the EU’s demands were unacceptable, but that the UK was still seeking a zero-tariff, zero quota agreement.
“We all want zero tariffs, zero quotas and that’s what we sad in the political declarations that we wanted and we still hope to get it,” he said.
“We are not saying there can be no level playing field provisions, we’re simply saying they must be provisions which are appropriate to a free trade agreements like are found in the Japan or Canada agreements and that’s what we’ve put forward.
“But there’s a big gap between where they are and where the EU is.”
Frost’s appaearance at the committee comes after he traded blows with Barnier last week over an exchange of letters.
Frost said in his letter that Barnier was trying to negotiate a “low quality trade agreement”.
Barnier fired back at his counterpart for the tone of his message.
“I would not like the tone that you have taken to impact the mutual trust and constructive attitude that is essential between us,” he said.
“The success of our negotiation will only be possible if tangible and parallel progress is made across all areas of negotiations, including engagement on and commitments to a level playing field and appropriate governance mechanisms, as well as to balanced, sustainable and long-term arrangments on fisheries.”