The latest round of talks between Britain and the EU on a post-Brexit trade deal have broken up early with “significant differences” remaining between the two sides.
The talks this week – which have been taking place in Brussels with the negotiating teams meeting face-to-face for the first time since the Covid-19 outbreak – had been due to continue to Friday.
In a statement, the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost said that while the ability to meet in person had given “extra depth and flexibility” to the discussions, there was more to do.
“We have completed our discussion of the full range of issues in the negotiation in just over three days,” he said.
“The negotiations have been comprehensive and useful. But they have also underlined the significant differences that still remain between us on a number of important issues.”
His EU opposite number Michel Barnier said that while Brussels had engaged “constructively”, officials needed to see an “equivalent engagement from the UK side”.
“Our goal was to get negotiations successfully and quickly on a trajectory to reach an agreement,” he said.
“However, after four days of discussions, serious divergences remain.”
He said the EU side had “listened carefully” to British concerns, but again made clear there could be no deal without agreements on fisheries and the so-called “level playing” requiring the UK to follow EU standards in return for continued access to the single market.
“We will continue to insist on parallel progress on all areas,” Mr Barnier said.
“The EU expects, in turn, its positions to be better understood and respected in order to reach an agreement. We need an equivalent engagement by the United Kingdom.”
The talks will now resume next week in London.
It had been hoped the face-to-face meetings – agreed following a high-level conference call last month between Boris Johnson and the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen – would inject new momentum into the process.
Mr Johnson has been adamant 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.