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Brexit trade deal on brink

Barnier hits back at UK’s ‘tone’ – EU warns of stalemate

THE EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier today lashed out at the UK’s efforts to seal a trade deal with the European Union.

PUBLISHED: 16:21, Wed, May 20, 2020 | UPDATED: 16:42, Wed, May 20, 2020

Gove says EU will use ‘variable geometry’ with Northern Ireland


The Frenchman said David Frost’s attempt to convey Britain’s frustrations through letter was not an appropriate way to conduct negotiations. The rant came after Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator with the European Union wrote to the bloc to complain about its sub-standard offer for the future relationship. In a letter to Downing Street, Mr Barnier wrote: “I share your commitment to helping the process move forward together.


“I do not think, however, that an exchange of letters regarding the substance of the negotiations is necessarily the best way to discuss on substantial points.

“It cannot be a substitute for serious engagement and detail negotiations and, in particular, I would not like the tone that you have taken to impact the mutual trust and constructive attitude that is essential between us.”


Yesterday, Mr Frost accused Brussels of attempting to fob Britain off with a sub-standard trade deal, one that falls short of its offers to other third countries.

Michel Barnier and David Frost

Michel Barnier has warned the UK about its ‘tone’ during post-Brexit trade talks (Image: GETTY)

It sparked fury within Mr Barnier’s camp, prompting an urgent and public rebuttal to be issued within 24 hours.

Mr Frost, the head of the Prime Minister’s Taskforce Europe, yesterday published 12 draft legal trade texts in a bid to deadlock between London and Brussels.

But in a letter to Brussels, he said the talks had stalled because the bloc had offered the UK a sub-standard trade deal.

Mr Frost wrote: “What is on offer is not a fair free trade relationship between close economic partners, but a relatively low-quality trade agreement coming with unprecedented EU oversight of our laws and institutions.

“We find it perplexing that the EU, instead of seeking to settle rapidly a high-quality set of agreements with a close economic partner, is instead insisting on additional, unbalanced, and unprecedented provisions in a range of areas, as a precondition for agreement between us.”

He said the bloc’s proposal for a regulatory level-playing field on state aid is just one “particularly egregious example”.

“You must see that this is simply not a provision any democratic country could sign, since it would mean that the British people could not decide our own rules to support our own industries in our own Parliament,” he added.

British negotiators published the plans amid fears that Mr Barnier is struggling to grab the attention of EU leaders.

They fear the Brussels bureaucrat will be unable to ask for tweaks to his mandate for the trade talks because governments are too busy with the coronavirus pandemic.

The papers include blueprints for future relationships in trade in goods, fisheries, aviation and energy cooperation.

Cabinet Office minister Michale Gove today launched his plans for the Northern Ireland.

But he signalled the Government was prepared to row back on promises, and suggested there will be customs checks on goods crossing the Irish sea.

Mr Gove said he would take steps to ensure the island of Ireland maintained its “disease-free status”.

Border inspections will be carried out on goods crossing from Great Britain to Belfast.

He said: “Our proposals will deliver unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the whole of the UK market.”

In the statement, Gove vowed: “What the protocol does not do is create – nor does it include any provision for creating – any kind of international border in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

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