Michael Gove, a UK cabinet minister who played a key role in the Vote Leave campaign, has been working “round the clock” to prepare the UK for a no-deal Brexit, the least desirable option for Britain, according to a source close to the UK negotiations cited by the Daily Mail.
The work to this end has reportedly intensified following the failed latest round of talks between UK negotiator David Frost and his European counterpart Michel Barnier on Friday.
“Michael is working round the clock to make sure that if the talks fail – as looks increasingly likely – then the disruption will be short term and minimal,” the source shared.
Shortly after the Friday meeting, Barnier lamented that the meetings, which resumed in July after the coronavirus lockdown was eased, were “going backwards more than forwards”.
The UK’s negotiator, David Frost, also agreed that there had been “little progress”.
“While an agreement by the end of September is still possible, a long to-do list still remains and time is of the essence for both sides,” a Whitehall source told the Daily Mail, outlining what he believes is holding the talks back.
“The EU’s insistence that nothing can progress until we have accepted EU positions on fisheries and state aid policy is a recipe for holding up the whole negotiation at a moment when time is short for both sides.”
The source said that despite the EU stressing they understand that “Brexit means Brexit”, “their fixation on continuity” has indicated that they might not.
“The UK will become a sovereign state and the sooner they accept this, the sooner we’ll make progress,” the speaker shared, adding that the British side is ready to “knuckle down” and discuss the much-needed legal texts.
According to another source, the EU needs to realise the Britons do not want the previous arrangements to be upheld, unlike the previous British government, which “may have wanted Brexit in name only”; and as soon as they understand it, things will get rolling.
What Hinders Reaching a Common Ground
The UK side has continuously objected to the EU’s proposals on fisheries and state aid arrangements - two of a string of sticking points in the sides’ negotiations - because they effectively replicate existing EU rules.
Britain is calling for any agreement on trade, fisheries and state aid among other things, that will guarantee its governance and autonomy – political, economic, and financial – as an independent coastal state. The EU has for its part been vehemently demanding that Britain should not undercut its environmental and labour standards, or its state aid procedures, while calling for “any trade agreement hand in hand with fair standards on a level playing field”, as Barnier put it.
Should the sides fail to reach a compromise on the sticking points, the deadlock could leave the UK and EU with no trade deal, which will make both fall entirely on World Trade Organisation rules, whereby a host of tariffs will be introduced at the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.
Negotiations 'Unnecessarily' Complicated
Downing Street has meanwhile assured the government can still agree on post-Brexit trade terms with the EU next month. The PM's spokesperson said that UK negotiators will "continue to plug the gaps" as talks with Brussels progressed into the seventh round on 17 August.
Since the latest round of talks was finalised, the side have exchanged fiery comments, accusing each other of slowing down the process. Brussels has made Brexit negotiations "unnecessarily difficult" by insisting that the UK sign up to state aid and fisheries rules, David Frost has warned, adding “substantive work”was being delayed by Brussels’ creating roadblocks out of the two areas of concern.
It comes as his EU counterpart Michel Barnier accused the British Government of “wasting valuable time” in trade talks with the European Union. After the seventh round of Brexit talks ended in deadlock, Frost charged that "it's not us that's slowing it down".