Lord Frost will go head-to-head with EU negotiator Michel Barnier in London as the discussions resume after a delay triggered by a coronavirus scare. But the Downing Street Task Force Europe chief insisted his team will not compromise over Brussels demands for continued meddling over regulations and fishing quotas. He spoke after Mr Barnier complained that “significant divergences” between the two sides with time running out to agree on a trade deal ready to come into force when the UK’s post-Brexit transition out of the EU single market and customs union concludes on January 1.
In a statement on Twitter, Lord Frost said: “I look forward to welcoming Michel Barnier and his team to London and to resuming face-to-face talks tomorrow. We are glad all are safe and well.
“Some people are asking me why we are still talking. My answer is that it’s my job to do my utmost to see if the conditions for a deal exist. It is late, but a deal is still possible, and I will continue to talk until it’s clear that it isn’t.
“But for a deal to be possible, it must fully respect UK sovereignty. That is not just a word – it has practical consequences. That includes: controlling our borders; deciding ourselves on a robust and principled subsidy control system; and controlling our fishing waters.
“We look to reach an agreement on this basis, allowing the new beginning to our relationship with the EU which, for our part, we have always wanted.
“We will continue to work hard to get it – because an agreement on any other basis is not possible.”
Lord Frost will go head-to-head with Michel Barnier to resume talks
One source yesterday said Mr Barnier will put forward a new compromise proposal for European fishing fleets to hand up to 18 percent of their catches in British coastal waters back to the UK.
Downing Street officials declined to discuss the proposal but insisted Mr Johnson will not give up the country’s sovereignty over coastal fishing waters in the talks.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “Our negotiating principle remains that we will become an independent coastal state and we will retain control of our fisheries.”
He added: “The talks will resume over the weekend on a face to face basis. We remain committed to seeking a free-trade agreement but that must fully respect UK sovereignty.
“At this late stage, a deal is still possible and we are working to achieve one. We’ll continue to negotiate over the weekend to that end.”
The spokesman said Mr Johnson was prepared to abandon the negotiations, leaving the UK to trade with the EU without a deal in a similar fashion to Australia’s relationship with the bloc, rather than compromise UK sovereignty.
“The PM has agreed to remain in personal contact about the negotiations.
“The Prime Minister has been consistent in his view of the negotiations. He has said if we can’t find a suitable compromise with our European friends we will leave the transition period on Australian terms on January 1,” the spokesman said.
Mr Barnier’s team was gloomy about the chances of a successful deal ahead of the talks, postponed earlier this month when one EU negotiator tested positive for coronavirus.
On Twitter, the EU envoy said: “Same significant divergences persist. Traveling to London this evening to continue EU-UK talks with David Frost and his team.”
Mr Barnier claimed he was prepared to call-off negotiations
A senior EU diplomat said the outlook for the talks was “not a particularly bright picture”.
In a private meeting of EU ambassadors, Mr Barnier was reported to be downbeat about the chances of a deal.
An EU source said: “Barnier said the deal remains difficult. The EU and the UK remain at loggerheads over the main outstanding issues, and he wasn’t particularly optimistic about the prospects of the negotiations.”
Mr Barnier earlier this week claimed he was prepared to call-off negotiations unless he was confident a breakthrough was possible over the weekend.
Brussels sources said the two sides were still “nautical miles” away from each other on the issue of fishing quotas.
The Prime Minister has been consistent in his views of the negotiations
During an official visit yesterday, Mr Johnson said: “The likelihood of a deal is very much determined by our friends and partners in the EU.
“There is a deal to be done if they want to do it, which I think would benefit people on both sides of the Channel.”
British officials rejected reports of a possible compromise put forward by Mr Barnier to hand UK boats an 18-percent boost in fishing opportunities in our waters.
A UK source close to the talks said: “It’s derisory, there’s not much else to say about it.”
Panicked EU states have ordered Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen to immediately trigger the bloc’s emergency plans for a no-deal Brexit.
An EU insider said: “A deal cannot be guaranteed at this stage and a no-deal outcome cannot be excluded. The EU needs to prepare diligently for all possible outcomes.”
But the French government was urging the EU to stand firm and not be “intimidated” by Britain with the Brexit trade talks set to go down to the wire.
Clement Beaune, France’s Europe minister, said: “The British need an agreement more than we do. European must be convinced of this and convinced of their strength in these negotiations.”
Mr Barnier was said to be “exasperated and impatient” when he held talks with the European Parliament’s Brexit Committee.
Ursula von der Leyen has been ordered to immediately trigger the bloc’s plans for a no-deal Brexit
Despite the deadlock on the main sticking points, Mr Barnier insisted progress had been made across much of the Brexit trade deal.
According to a source familiar with the meeting, the Frenchman said both sides were closing in on agreements for judicial and security cooperation, the free flow of workers and social security.
Mr Barnier also claimed member states had backed his plan to fast-track the ratification process by ensuring only EU leaders and MEPS will have a say on the final agreement.
The EU Parliament is set to hold an emergency session on December 28 to give its approval.
The Brussels diplomat told the senior MEPs that the bloc would have to recognise Britain’s status as an independent coastal state to get a deal on fisheries over the line.