Michel Barnier's mask slips: Brexiteer pinpoints EU chief's critical weakness in FTA talks

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    The EU’s chief executive said “significant divergences” persisted in its talks with Boris Johnson’s negotiating team. In a statement, Brussels said: “We are working hard to overcome the significant divergences that remain between us. “We are working towards an agreement.” Brexit negotiations have stalled in recent months over two key issues – fisheries and regulatory alignment. Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to fulfil a Leave campaign promise that the UK will take back control of its waters post-Brexit. Previously, EU vessels had free access to British fishing grounds, leaving many fishermen in the UK aggrieved.

    However, the EU’s chief negotiator – Michel Barnier – has warned Mr Johnson he cannot secure access to European markets without allowing EU vessels into UK waters.

    The UK is also looking to avoid EU regulations – giving the country more freedom to set its own laws on trading standards.

    But Tory Brexiteer Andrew Bridgen tells Express.co.uk that the very nature of the EU is the main reason for the lengthy period of time without progress.

    He said: “One of the reasons [for the impasse] is the bureaucracy of the EU.

    “They’ve got to get 27 heads of states to agree to a negotiating position, whereas David Frost can speak to Boris and Boris can make a decision.

    “Barnier has to speak to the Commission, and then the Commission has got to get the approval of 27 heads of states.”

    He also claimed demands made by Brussels have been “unreasonable”.

    He continued: “Ultimately what the EU’s demands are, given we are now a sovereign nation, accepting EU regulations, rights to fishing grounds and the European Court of Justice to rule over the agreement of our future relationship.

    READ MORE: EU fisheries panic: ‘Violent confrontations at sea’ warning exposed

    “Extending the time was never going to break the deadlock – the EU would have never changed their position.”

    It has also been apparent in the last year that many in the EU are expectant of a no deal scenario.

    Brussels has warned that a trade deal can only be ratified if the UK accepts a “level playing field”.

    This sticking point led to Guy Verhofstadt, then the EU’s Brexit coordinator, expressing concern over whether a deal would be reached at all.

    He told the Financial Times in September 2019: “Asking for a basic trade deal with the Union while refusing regulatory alignment and tearing up their level playing field commitments means the UK will find it very difficult to achieve an ambitious trade agreement with the EU.

    “In this scenario, ratification would be further jeopardised.”

    According to a diplomatic note from a Commission meeting at the time, it was warned that “there could be problems to ratify an FTA at any subsequent stage unless this [level playing field] is balanced”.



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