Downing Street has dismissed speculation that the UK is preparing to compromise on fisheries and level playing field rules during Brexit trade talks with the EU.
The Times reported today that EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier expected the UK begin to cave on the two major stumbling blocks to negotiations in this week’s negotiating round.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told a call of journalists today that it was “wishful thinking by the EU”.
“We have always been clear there is no question of splitting the difference on level playing field and fish,” he said.
“We aren’t compromising on these, because our position on these is fundamental to an independent country.
“Any agreement has to deal with this reality.”
The fourth round of talks between the UK and EU began today and will be the last before both sides take a break to assess progress so far.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will also meet this month at a yet to be confirmed date.
A source close to UK chief negotiator David Frost told City A.M. yesterday that the Downing Street’s negotiating team did not expect much progress this week, and that there would need to be political movement between Johnson and von der Leyen for gaps to be bridged.
UK officials have said enough progress needs to be made before autumn or they will walk away and prepare to leave the transition period on 31 December with no deal.
The two largest areas of contention during negotiations have been the fisheries policy and the so-called level playing field.
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”.
Brussels is also asking that the UK mirrors EU regulations on things like labour laws, environmental protection and state aid to the private sector.
In return for this level playing field, Brussels will continue to trade with the UK on a zero-tariff basis.
Frost said last week that while he believed some movement was beginning to happen on fisheries that the two sides were still far apart on level playing field discussions.
“We all want zero tariffs, zero quotas and that’s what we said 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.”
Barnier said after the last round of negotiations that the UK “did not engage in a real discussion on the question of the level playing field”.
He added: “Our Member states have been very clear that, without a level playing field, and without an agreement on fisheries, there will be no economic and trade partnership agreement.”
There are also disagreements about governance arrangements for the overall deal.
Brussels is asking for the disputes to be managed by the European Court of Justice, while the UK has said this unacceptable.