Friday, 18 Sep 2020

Michel Barnier’s no deal Brexit ‘frustration’ laid bare in ‘brutal’ analysis of EU talks

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Stalled Brexit talks have sparked fears that the UK and European Union could fail to reach a deal before the December deadline. EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier said he is “disappointed” by the lack of progress and warned that an agreement before the end of the year “seems unlikely” while UK Chief Negotiator David Frost described the latest talks as “useful” but also flagged that “there has been little progress”. Professor Anand Menon, director of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative, spoke to Jonathan Saxty on BrexitWatch about the likelihood of achieving a trade deal before the December deadline.

He told viewers: “My overall assessment of how the negotiations have gone so far would be quite brutal, in that they haven’t progressed so far.

“I fully expect that when the talks break up we’ll have yet another of those sort of Groundhog Day moments where Michel Barnier and David Frost come out and say, ‘there are serious problems we have to overcome before we can get an agreement’.

“On the Brussels side there’s a degree of frustration.

“There are some on the EU side who say that Britain just isn’t negotiating.”

Professor Menon continued: “But the specific frustrations are around things like state aid.

“What the EU says is we can’t come to an agreement without an agreement on state aid.

“We can’t come to an agreement on state aid unless the UK tells us what its plans are and they haven’t.

“So my sense has always been that actually insofar as there is a chance of progress, and there is a chance of progress, it will happen in September or conceivably even only October when the political heavyweights on both sides of the Channel get involved and authorise the sorts of concessions from both sides that we’re going to need to get to a deal.”

The expert also gave insight into whether the end of the year drawing closer would start to focus minds.

He said: “Probably, and I say probably because of course in the event that we end up with a second wave or a second spike of the coronavirus then that will monopolise political attention.

“Even if you think like I do that actually with a bit of political will we can get this over the line and get a Brexit deal, there is a danger that if something comes along and distracts people that that will get in the way of our ability to sign a deal.”

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Professor Menon added: “But I think all things being equal politicians will start to think on both sides of the Channel.

“Remember Boris Johnson has been obsessed with the pandemic, quite rightly so.

“On the other side of the water for our partners Brexit has become a fourth, fifth, sixth order issue because of squabbles over the budget and because of COVID-19.

“But what we need is for them to spend a bit of time thinking about Brexit.

“And all things being equal I think by the end of September, early October, they’re going to have to do that and then things will move quite fast.”

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