Post-Brexit negotiations at impasse as deadline nears

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European Union Chief Negotiator for Brexit Michel Barnier looks on during a news conference after a European General Affairs Ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium May 22, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

European Union and British negotiators said Friday there had been very little progress in their latest round of talks about a Brexit free trade agreement, with just weeks left to extend a year-end deadline to reach a deal.

Both sides, however, avoided the vitriol that has sometimes marked years of the tortuous Brexit talks. They laid out plans to intensify their negotiations and pleaded for political support from their leaders when they assess the situation later in June.

Britain left the EU in January. Their relationship is now governed by a transition arrangement that keeps previous rules in place while they negotiate new terms. That expires at the end of this year unless they agree by this month to extend it, which Britain has repeatedly said it will not do.

So far, negotiations have not gone well.

“This week, there have been no significant areas of progress … We cannot go on like this forever,” EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told a news conference.

He said the EU and Britain remained far apart on the issues of fair competition guarantees and the governance of their new relationship, as well as fishing rights.

He noted some progress in talks over human rights guarantees that would allow Britain and the EU to go on cooperating in criminal and judicial matters from 2021, but added that even that was far off from the possible agreement.

Britain had a similar message.

“Progress remains limited but our talks have been positive in tone,” said Britain’s chief negotiator, David Frost. “Negotiations will continue and we remain committed to a successful outcome.”

Britain wants a deal to guarantee free trade with the EU. Brussels says this is possible only if it signs up to “level playing field” rules to guarantee equivalent regulatory standards on the environment or state aid. London has repeatedly rejected this, saying it will not be dictated to by the EU.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to hold talks with Barnier’s boss, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and the chairman of the 27 EU leaders, Charles Michel later this month.

Negotiators would resume in late June or early July, Barnier said, possibly in person after months of talks on videoconferences forced by the coronavirus crisis.

“If we are to make progress, it is clear that we must intensify and accelerate our work,” Frost said.

If the negotiation period is not extended this month, a deal needs to be sealed by the end of October to allow enough time for ratification by the bloc’s 27 member states, Barnier said.

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