Michael Barnier cut a frustrated figure this afternoon after the latest round of Brexit talks were wrapped up for the day.
Negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal look set to go to the wire with the European Union saying a deal must be reached by mid-November in order for it to be ratified by the end of the year, when the current transition arrangements expire.
Downing Street acknowledged that “significant gaps” still remain between the two sides and “time is in short supply”.
Teams led by the EU’s Michel Barnier and the UK’s Lord Frost have been taking place in London this week.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Talks are continuing in London and the negotiators are working hard to bridge the still significant gaps that remain.
“Time is in short supply and there are still significant gaps that remain.”
Boris Johnson has repeatedly said he is prepared to walk away without a deal – something the Government refers to as “Australian terms”.
The spokesman 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 will continue to work hard, but it is the case that significant gaps remain.”
“Level playing field”
The main stumbling blocks between the UK and EU are thought to include the “level playing field” measures aimed at preventing unfair competition on issues including state subsidies, the ongoing row over fishing rights, and how any UK-EU deal will be governed.
Mr Johnson would “like to get a deal” but the transition period will definitely end on December 31 and “we will be ready to leave either on Australian-style terms or with a free-trade agreement if that can be reached with the EU”.
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
The Prime Minister is “fully confident we will prosper in all circumstances”.
Stefaan de Rynck, an aide to Mr Barnier, called for the UK to sign up to “fair competition standards”.
“A whit of courage for signing up to fair competition standards in the mutual interest of EU and UK would be good,” he said.
A degree of flexibility
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove told MPs: “The UK has already shown a great degree of flexibility in these negotiations, but it is important also that the European Union shows flexibility too.
“In particular, there needs to be a full recognition that we are sovereign equals. And any attempt to continue to tie the UK into EU processes or to extend EU jurisdiction by other means would be quite wrong.”
Brilliant!— ?carol hedges (@carolJhedges) November 12, 2020
Sadly, the opposing team is hellbent only on scoring own goals!!#brexit
He was unable to say how many of the estimated 50,000 customs agents needed to cope with the new trading arrangements were in place.
“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,” he said.
Mr Gove was meeting business chiefs to help prepare for the new arrangements which come into effect on January 1, outside the EU’s single market and customs union.