UK and EU trade deal faces further setbacks

Britain and the European Union clashed on 23 July over a potential free trade agreement, with the EU saying a formal deal was “unlikely”.
calendar icon 24 July 2020
clock icon 6 minute read

Reuters reports that though the EU feels an agreement with Britain is unlikely, London is holding out hope that a deal could be reached in September.

Since Britain left the bloc in January 2020, talks on the trade agreement and other future ties have all but stalled, with each side accusing the other of failing to compromise before a transition period runs out at the end of this year.

Those accusations grew louder after the latest round, with the EU's negotiator Michel Barnier saying London had shown no willingness to break the deadlock and his British counterpart David Frost describing the bloc's proposals as failing to meet the government's demand to be treated as an independent country.

But both sides agreed on one thing: there had been no movement on the main stumbling blocks to a deal on fair competition guarantees - the so-called level playing field - or on fisheries.

Without a deal to govern future trade flows, some companies fear costly disruption and confusion at the border from next year, which would hit at a time when many are already struggling with the impact of the coronavirus crisis.

"By its current refusal to commit to conditions of open and fair competition and to a balanced agreement on fisheries, the UK makes a trade agreement - at this point - unlikely," Barnier told a news conference after the face to face talks in London.

"The time for answers is quickly running out," he said. "If we do not reach an agreement on our future partnership, there will be more friction."

Frost was equally blunt, saying "considerable gaps" remained but he added: "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."

Senior EU officials say they only expect possible breakthroughs by the end of August or in September, but some have also expressed concerns that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson might go for a no-deal split.

Both negotiators seemed to agree a deal could be reached but only if the other side budged. One senior UK official described the negotiations as being equally close to a breakthrough or a breakdown.

"Obviously we must prepare for every outcome and it is possible that we won't reach an agreement, but we're going to work very energetically to try to do so," Frost said.

Read more about this story on Reuters.

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