EU insider blows lid on how mood in Michel Barnier’s negotiating camp is changing
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The growing sense of despondency within Michel Barnier’s team is fuelled by fears of a bitter no deal Brexit with EU negotiators braced for a vicious “blame game” over who is responsible for the stalemate. Last week’s tense talks which ended in stalemate did nothing to lift flagging spirits in Brussels.
Outsiders don’t realise how pessimistic we’ve become
An EU insider said: “Outsiders don’t realise how pessimistic we’ve become.
“We expect the mood to switch rapidly to contingency planning, in expectation the UK will throw itself into the blame game rather than the end game.
“The idea that if we do end up with no deal it’ll be because the EU underestimated the UK’s determination is misplaced.
“If it happens it’ll be because there was no overlap of interests allowing a landing zone.”
Post-Brexit trade talks between the UK and EU are “frozen” with both sides refusing to back down on the key issues of fisheries and state aid.
Mr Barnier warned agreeing a deal before the deadline currently “seems unlikely”, as he suggested Britain is “wasting valuable time”.
His UK counterpart David Frost also warned “there has been little progress” after the conclusion of the seventh round of talks last Friday.
Both sides accept time is running out to broker a deal before the transition period comes to a close at the end of the year, which would see UK firms facing high tariffs for trade.
Mr Frost said he believes an agreement can still be struck, but he accused the EU of ruling out “any further substantive work” unless the UK accepts the bloc’s state aid rules and fisheries policy.
A senior negotiating official for the UK insisted “it’s not us that’s slowing it down”, and ruled out accepting Mr Barnier’s position: “Obviously we’re not going to do that. So it’s frozen.”
After a breakfast meeting between the top negotiators at the close of the talks in Brussels, Mr Barnier was equally as pessimistic about progress.
He said: “Too often it felt as if we were going backwards more than forwards.
“Given the short time left, what I said in London in July remains true.
“At this stage, an agreement between the UK and the European Union seems unlikely.
“I simply do not understand why we are wasting valuable time.”
He said “we have made no progress whatsoever” on the key issues of fishing policy, and said they “still struggle to agree on the necessary guarantees to protect citizens’ fundamental rights” in law enforcement.
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He also reiterated the EU’s commitment to the level-playing field to prevent businesses on one side undercutting their rivals on the other with lower workers’ rights or environmental protections.
Mr Frost said they will “continue to work hard to reach an agreement”, with the next round of talks starting in London in the week of September 7.
The two sides are currently in a transition period where the UK follows the EU’s rules and has access to the single market, but this ends on December 31.
Both parties have said any deal needs to be concluded by October in order to be ratified.
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