The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has slammed the UK as showing “no willingness” to compromise on key matters in the ongoing trade talks.
Michel Barnier accused the British side of “wasting valuable time” and said they had made “no progress whatsoever” on vital issues like fisheries.
The UK’s chief negotiator David Frost was equally gloomy, accusing the EU of being “unnecessarily difficult”, warning “time is short for both sides”.
It follows the conclusion of the seventh round of talks between Frost and Barnier in a bid to hammer out a trade deal before the Brexit transition period ends at the end of the year.
Frost indicated the two sides were approaching deadlock, with progress “frozen” on the main sticking points of fisheries and state aid.
Barnier said both sides also remain “far apart” on issues like law enforcement and social security coordination.
He also reiterated the EU’s commitment to the so-called “level playing field” on issues like workers’ rights and environmental protections.
This refers to countries having a common set of rules and standards that prevents one nation from undercutting or gaining a competitive advantage over others – one of the key principles of being a member of the EU’s single market.
Speaking at a press conference after the talks, Barnier said: “Too often this week 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.
“Today 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.
Frost said that while he still believes a UK-EU trade deal is possible, “very little progress has been made”.
He told journalists the EU was ruling out “any further substantive work” unless the UK accepts the bloc’s state aid rules and fisheries policy.
“This makes it unnecessarily difficult to make progress,” Frost said.
A senior negotiating official for the UK insisted: “It’s not us that’s slowing it down.”
They added: “The process block now is the EU’s insistence that we must accept their position on state aid and fisheries before we can talk about anything else.
“Obviously we’re not going to do that. So it’s frozen.
“That doesn’t seem to us to be sensible.
“We should be talking about the many other areas, some of which are productive, some of which are more difficult, but we are ready to talk about anything.”
The UK formally left the EU on January 31 but remains in a standstill transition arrangement until the end of the year.
The next round of talks between the two sides is set to begin in London next month.