EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said that “significant differences” remain at the end of the latest round of trade talks, and accused the UK of failing to “engage” on major issues.
And Mr Barnier confirmed that there was no agreement on the crucial issue of whether the UK will be granted “third party” status giving it automatic rights to export food products into the EU customs area after 1 January.
The issue is at the heart of the current row over the Brexit withdrawal agreement, as UK ministers believe that if the designation is withheld, exports of food from the British mainland to Northern Ireland could be blocked.
Speaking shortly after completing the eighth round of talks on an EU/UK trade deal with Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator David Frost, Mr Barnier made clear that no significant progress had been made.
And he said the EU was “intensifying its preparedness work” to be ready for a possible disruptive no-deal Brexit at the start of next year.
In comments ahead of the talks, both Mr Johnson and Lord Frost cast this week as a critical moment to make a breakthrough in the stalled trade talks, calling on Brussels to show “realism” and reach a deal by the PM’s self-imposed deadline of 15 October.
But following three days of discussions in London, Mr Barnier said: “Significant differences remain in areas of essential interest for the EU.”
He said the UK continued to refuse “indispensable” guarantees on fair competition and social, environmental, labour and climate standards in return for access to the European single market.
And he said the British side had “not engaged on other major issues, such as credible horizontal dispute settlement mechanisms, essential safeguards for judicial cooperation and law enforcement, fisheries, or level playing field requirements in the areas of transport and energy”
He called for more “clarity” about Great Britain’s future animal sanitation and health standards after it stops observing EU rules on 1 January.
The “many uncertainties” on the issue meant it was currently not possible to grant the UK third-party status, he said.
And he added: “To conclude a future partnership, mutual trust and confidence are and will be necessary.
“The chief negotiators and their teams will remain in contact over the coming days. At the same time, the EU is intensifying its preparedness work to be ready for all scenarios on 1 January 2021.”