Tuesday 20 October 2020 2:58 pm

Brexit: EU not serious about restarting trade talks, says minister

The EU’s offer to restart broken down Brexit trade talks amounted only to “lip service”, according to a UK business minister.

Nadhim Zahawi said today that the UK still wanted a Brexit trade deal, despite Boris Johnson refusing to come back to the negotiating table, but that talks would not continue until Brussels treats Britain as an “equal”.

Read more: Brexit: EU vows to ‘intensify’ trade talks to get UK back to negotiating table

Johnson yesterday knocked back the EU’s offer to restart Brexit trade talks, saying the olive branch from Brussels did not provide a “basis to resume talks”. He told Greek Prime Minster Kyriakos Mitsotakis today that talks were finished unless Brussels “fundamentally changes its position”.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said he was willing to “intensify” trade talks and provide legal texts in a bid to get the UK back to the negotiating table, after Johnson walked away on Friday.

Barnier’s comments came after a phone call today with the UK’s chief negotiator Lord David Frost.

Constructive but not enough from EU

A statement released by Downing Street said the conversation had been “constructive”, but there had not been enough assurances by Barnier to restart talks.

“The UK has noted the EU’s proposal to genuinely intensify talks, which is what would be expected at this stage in a negotiation,” the statement read.

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“However, the UK continues to believe there is no basis to resume talks unless there is a fundamental change of approach from the EU.

“This means an EU approach consistent with trying to find an agreement between sovereign equals and with acceptance that movement needs to come from the EU side as well as the UK. 

“The two teams agreed to remain in close touch.”

Zahawi echoed the Prime Minister’s comments in a Sky News interview this morning.

“As long as they agree to negotiate with us as a sovereign in the way the EU has treated Norway on fishing, then we’re happy to intensify,” he said.

“But until they make it very clear that they are willing to negotiate with us as an equal, as a sovereign, then there’s no point simply just paying lip service.

“There’s no point saying they’ll intensify negotiations when the reality is that they don’t accept the principle that the UK has left the EU and we are now sovereign.”

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove told MPs yesterday that the UK had walked away from talks, because the EU had been unwilling to intensify talks and provide legal texts in the negotiating rounds.

Read more: UK can be a ‘free agent’ in financial markets after Brexit, says think tank

He also said there was no point negotiating unless Brussels made key concessions on fisheries agreements and state aid policy.

The EU is demanding that its member states retain the same access they had to UK fishing waters as they did when Britain was a part of the bloc.

Brussels is also asking the UK to sign up to a level playing field of business regulations, which would see the government agree to follow EU rules on state subsidy regulations.

Gove said that neither of these positions were tenable and the UK would not continue negotiations unless the EU moved on these issues.

Read more: Pound jumps on signs a Brexit deal can still be done

“There’s no point in negotiations proceeding as long as the EU sticks with its position,” he said

“This country should get ready for 1 January 2021 for arrangements that are more like Australia’s – based on simple principles of global free trade.”