Post-Brexit trade talks between UK negotiator David Frost and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier suffered a major setback after the EU outlined a fresh series of demands. The two negotiating teams had been progressing towards an agreement until late on Thursday evening when UK sources said discussions had “gone back 24 hours”. EU negotiations reportedly toughened their stance after France called for a robust independent regulator to oversee the terms of the deal.
A senior government source said “At the eleventh hour, the EU is bringing new elements into the negotiation.
“A breakthrough is still possible in the next few days but that prospect is receding.”
With the official deadline of December 31 rapidly approaching outstanding issues over fisheries remain the primary obstacle to a deal.
France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune has since doubled-down on demands for access to UK waters and has vowed to veto the whole deal if its fishermen do not get their way.
He said: “France is attached to the interests of its fishermen, is attached to the fair business conditions, and I think it’s also the case for our partners that if there were a deal that isn’t good which in our evaluation doesn’t correspond to those interests, we will oppose it.
“Yes each country has a veto, so it’s possible. France like all its partners has the means of a veto, we must make our own evaluation of course of this deal, that’s normal.
“We owe that to the French people, we owe it to our fishermen, and to other economic sectors.”
Officials in France have already asked the European Commission to increase no deal planning.
The idea of ending discussions without an agreement and continuing talks in 2021 without the stress of a deadline has also been floated.
The UK has always rejected calls for an extension to the Brexit transition period and vowed to leave on Australian-style terms if an agreement was not forthcoming with the bloc.
Mr Barnier is set to update 27 national envoys in Brussels later this afternoon by video conference.
Upon leaving his London hotel this morning, the EU chief gave a brief comment and acknowledged today was an “important day”.
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EU leaders will reconvene at an EU Council summit on Thursday December 10.
It is set to be the last meeting of the EU27 this year and could be the final opportunity for each member state to scrutinise any deal.
This morning, Business Secretary Alok Sharma reiterated the negotiations had reached a “critical phase” and ordered the EU to respect the UK position.
He said: “Right from the start of this process, we’ve always said that a deal can only be done if the EU recognises that the UK is a sovereign independent nation.
“It is on the basis of that a deal will be done.”