The EU’s trade talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government were renewed a week ago amid the raging pandemic, but have since “reached an impasse", Reuters reported citing diplomats and officials in Brussels.
“There are plenty of minor technical details where we could find solutions. But on the fundamental goals each side is trying to achieve - the differences are enormous. Things cannot move without a political push. And it’s missing", one diplomat noted.
In the wake of last week’s talks, chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said that London had to try and bridge gaps for a deal to be sealed in the little time available, while Johnson’s spokesman hit back arguing London can in no way be made “to agree to the EU’s proposals in areas where they are not taking into account the UK’s status as an independent state".
“Clearly there will need to be political movement on the EU’s side to move negotiations forward, particularly on fisheries and level playing field issues in order to help find a balanced solution", he said with regard to new talks scheduled for June.
'Little Idea on How to Get a Breakthrough'
EU officials believe there is still time for London and Brussels to meet a deadline some time soon to agree on extending negotiations beyond the end of the year, as was previously stated, but PM Johnson, who has hitherto been fully engrossed in his own personal fight against COVID-19, is understood to have insisted that no prolongation of trade debates should happen.
The bloc's conditions for a potentially-clinched modest free trade deal, including rigid guarantees of fair competition are something that has been rejected by Britain.
There has been no progress in talks on these so-called level playing field provisions, according to EU sources, or on guarantees for personal data protection as well as human rights.
“Talks are not advancing and there seems little idea for the time being on how to get a breakthrough", a second EU diplomat stressed.
Major Stumbling Blocks
As talks with Brussels resumed by videoconference after a six-week pause induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, Boris Johnson has urged EU leaders to change their stance as long as there is any hope for a post-Brexit trade deal, according to the Financial Times. Among a plethora of contentious issues, the bloc has rejected Britain’s request for continued access to the EU’s police and border database - the Schengen Information System. For its part, Britain has refused to allow the EU to set up an office in Belfast to allow European experts to monitor how border controls are arranged on the sensitive Irish border.
Also, the UK insists that the EU review its demands for guaranteed long-term access to the Britain's fishing waters. However, as the talks reached a dead end on Friday, Michel Barnier warned that no trade deal would be signed without guarantees on fishing rights.
Another key feature of the prospective deal that Britain is opposed to is signing up to a regulatory “level playing field", which would oblige it to maintain EU standards on workers' rights, environmental protection, and state subsidies.