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EU’s Barnier deplores lack of progress in Brexit talks

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. PHOTO: Getty images

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier deplored a lack of progress in the latest round of post-Brexit trade talks on Friday, accusing Britain of stalling negotiations.

Barnier reported his concern at the end of a week of talks, which came amid the added urgency of the coronavirus pandemic that has shattered the economy in Europe.

“To tell you the truth.. our objective that we had for tangible progress, this objective has only been partially achieved,” Barnier told a news conference after the talks.

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“The United Kingdom did not want to engage seriously on a certain number of fundamental issues,” he added.

Britain left the European Union on January 31 and both sides have until the end of the year to forge a new basis for relations, barring an extension that Barnier confirmed London still refuses.

“We need real progress by the month of June if we want to find a deal by the end of the year that meets the level of our interdependence and our geographic proximity,” Barnier said.

Britain “cannot refuse to extend transition and at the same time slow down discussions on important areas,” he added testily.

The trade talks entered high gear with a first round in March, but quickly fell victim to the COVID-19 crisis when Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost both tested positive with the virus.

Talks were suspended for six weeks as each side focused on the deadly virus and explored ways to hold the talks by distance that involve more than 100 negotiators on each side.

The lack of progress will feed fears that no deal will be reached by December 31, meaning that WTO rules with high tariffs and customs barriers would come into force between the UK and EU.

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That prospect is especially alarming given the cataclysmic recession already facing the continent which cross-Channel chaos would only make worse.

But British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been hospitalised because of the virus, refuses to be swayed, with his government insisting that the old deadline must stand.

Unacceptable for Johnson is that an extension would also extend the so-called transition period, in which Britain must obey EU rules and regulations during the course of negotiations.

London is trying to negotiate a series of packages in different domains including fishing, goods, aviation, justice and energy. But EU leaders want a single overarching accord.

The thorny problem of fishing rights — deeply important to several key EU states, notably France — could alone derail the whole process.

“There will be no agreement on a trade deal, without a deal on fishing,” Barnier said.

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