THE EU’s chief negotiator has taunted the UK’s team after what was described as an “intense” day of Brexit talks.
Michel Barnier is currently in London having discussions with his UK counterpart, David Frost, and “working hard to bridge the still significant gaps that remain”, according to the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson.
The European bloc and the UK have been unable to agree on several core issues, including fish, state aid rules, and the so-called “level playing field” which aims to prevent one side’s businesses having an advantage over the other’s.
It would seem that no progress has been made on any of those issues since Boris Johnson promised to stay in “personal contact” with EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen at the weekend.
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Taking to Twitter during a pause in the ongoing negotiations, Barnier wrote: “Short break from intense [EU-UK] negotiations in London.
“Went looking for level playing fields…”
Also heard Sir Frost went looking for his idea of level playing fields. This is what he found 👇 pic.twitter.com/r9NCGbgVUF
— Andre den Houter (@AndreDenHouter) November 12, 2020
Barnier’s comment has been well received on social media, with one user describing it as “priceless trolling”.
Another added: “If you look carefully Michel, you’ll see Johnson and Gove trying to move the goalposts.”
A third wrote: “Also heard Sir Frost went looking for his idea of level playing fields. This is what he found”, alongside a picture of a football pitch on an unusable gradient.
However, Michael Gove has said that talks are progressing, claiming that Brussels is beginning to understand the UK’s position on what becoming an independent nation means.
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He told the BBC: “I think the penny is dropping but negotiations are going on at the moment in order to make sure that those final areas of disagreement are finally resolved.”
When speaking to MPs Gove was unable to say how many of the estimated 50,000 customs agents needed to cope when expected new trading arrangements were in place.
In an unclear answer, he said: “It is the case there has been a significant increase in the number of customs agents who are being employed both by companies themselves with in-house capacity and also through intermediaries who have been scaling up their own activities as well.”
The Irish Taoiseach, Micheal Martin, today warned that Brexit may prove “ruinous” for the UK.
The Irish premier said: “We’ve all had a very significant shock to our economic system because of Covid-19 – the last thing we need now across all of our respective economies is a second major shock.”
Martin also said the UK needs to be “very careful that they do not do anything that could destabilise the politics of Northern Ireland”, and that no deal past the transition period could lead to “tensions that are unnecessary”.
Commenting on the Brexit talks, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: “We have been working hard throughout to get a deal but we’ve always said that it needs to be a deal that fully respects UK sovereignty, and that’s what we’re continuing to pursue.
“Right from the outset I don’t think we’ve been seeking anything that the EU hasn’t agreed to with other sovereign countries and we’re working hard and are continuing to work hard, but it is the case that significant gaps remain.”
They said that the Prime Minister still intends for the UK to leave the bloc without a trade deal if one is not brokered by the end of the transition period on December 31.
Without a deal being struck, trade between the UK and EU will be subject to tariffs set out by the World Trade Organisation.
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Elsewhere, Downing Street has been forced to defend its negotiations with Canada after the nation’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said the UK is struggling to secure a trade deal before the end of the transition period because it lacks “the bandwidth”.
Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said: “We’ve been working hard to reach an agreement with Canada and those discussions are ongoing.
“If you look at the work that the Department of International Trade has been doing, they have been making good progress in terms of rolling over deals and also securing free trade agreements with countries such as Japan.”
The Government initially claimed the Japanese trade deal would benefit the UK economy to the tune of an extra £1.5bn annually. However, this was compared to a No-Deal situation with the Asian nation.
The EU’s trade deal with Japan would have brought around £2.6bn to the UK economy annually by 2032, according to the Department for International Trade.