|AS the dust settles on a tumultuous week of Brexit negotiations, both Lord Frost and Michel Barnier are working to pick up the pieces of a political explosion that threatens to ruin chances of free-trade agreement being brokered by the end of the year.|
There has been no agreement, no progress, not even a press conference from either side, but a lot of mud-slinging in the process.
Boris Johnson hurled a grenade into what was expected to be a civilised week of negotiations with the publication of the Internal Market Bill – legislation designed to hand ministers the powers to overwrite EU customs checks and state subsidies for Northern Ireland as agreed with the bloc last year.
In Brussels, it raised doubt over whether the Government was prepared to fully implement and honour the terms of the withdrawal agreement. Diplomats and officials were ordered out to attack No10. Threats of legal action and restricted access were at the heart of their reaction.
As key players across the bloc softened their stance on handing Britain regulatory freedom as part of the final trade pact, they were forced into an immediate U-turn.
A senior EU diplomat told me: “There’s now a question over whether no deal will actually be that bad after all.
“Do we trust the UK after this week’s publication of its internal market legislation? They say ‘The sun never sets on the British empire, that’s because God doesn’t trust a Brit in the dark’.”
In Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s TaskForce Europe believes they may have accidentally added some much-needed energy into the trade talks as they enter their final phase.
Problems to overcome
The No10 negotiators have been left largely frustrated by what is seen as a refusal by the EU to budge away from their “maximalist” positions, which demand Britain surrenders access to its coastal waters and signs up to swathes of red tape as the price for a deal.
British officials were left seething by a statement from Mr Barnier that claimed the UK was not interested in properly engaging in the talks.