There remain “significant divergences” between Brussels and the UK on a post-Brexit trade deal following “informal” talks in London, the European Commission has said.
Michel Barnier crossed the Channel this week for what he deemed a “useful discussion” with Boris Johnson’s Europe adviser, David Frost, as the pair attempted to inject some movement into UK-EU trade talks.
But Brussels said there were still issues blocking a deal despite the EU’s chief negotiator’s trip.
“A number of meetings took place in London this week, as set out in the addendum of the terms of reference,” said European Commission spokesman Daniel Farrie at a briefing with journalists on Thursday.
“The EU is acting constructively and in good faith, as (EU chief negotiator) Michel Barnier pointed out earlier this week.
“We are working hard to overcome the significant divergences that remain between us.
“Meetings will continue in Brussels next week and the next round of negotiations will take place in the week of July 20 in London.”
When pushed on whether there were positives to take from the London sessions, Mr Farrie added: “My answer will be very, very short there.
“We are working towards an agreement.”
Useful discussion (and nice dinner! ?) with @DavidGHFrost last night. The ?? team will continue negotiating in good faith today. We are working hard for a fair agreement with the ??, including on fisheries and a level playing field. https://t.co/JoG4cJ9wUC— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) July 8, 2020
Mr Barnier took part in a round of meetings on Wednesday following a “nice dinner” of halibut in Number 10 on Tuesday night.
He said negotiators were “working hard for a fair agreement” with the UK, including on the key sticking points of fisheries and the “level playing field” arrangements designed to prevent the UK undercutting the EU by lowering standards and increasing state subsidies.
The fringe talks came after the Prime Minister told German Chancellor Angela Merkel the UK would be prepared to walk away without a trade deal at the end of the year.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing that the Downing Street dinner had provided a “constructive opportunity for David (Frost) and Michel Barnier to meet in a more informal way ahead of the specialised sessions”.
The official said the pair had been keen to discuss “goods and services, fisheries, governance, the level-playing field and law enforcement” while Mr Barnier was in the London capital.
Mr Frost is now due to reciprocate and travel to Brussels for further discussions next week before formal negotiations resume in London in little over a week’s time.
Mr Johnson has been adamant that he will not allow the discussions to drag on into the autumn, arguing that British businesses and citizens need certainty on the way forward before then.
If the two sides are unable to reach a deal by the end of the current Brexit transition period at the end of the year, it will mean Britain leaving the single market and the customs union without any agreement on future access.