Michel Barnier has said “very serious divergences” remain between the European Union and UK as efforts continue to strike a post-Brexit trade deal.
The EU’s chief negotiator said the main stumbling blocks remained the “level playing field” aimed at preventing unfair competition on areas including state subsidies, fisheries policy and the governance of any deal.
Mr Barnier updated MEPs and EU diplomats on the status of the negotiations with his UK counterpart Lord Frost, which have been taking place in Brussels.
He said: “Despite EU efforts to find solutions, very serious divergences remain in level playing field, governance and fisheries.
“These are essential conditions for any economic partnership.”
Lord Frost said progress had been made during two weeks of intensive talks but “wide divergences remain on some core issues”.
“We continue to work to find solutions that fully respect UK sovereignty,” he said.
Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney responded to Mr Barnier’s comments by tweeting: “A reminder that a #Brexit trade deal is far from certain.”
He added: “We must continue to prepare as a country for all outcomes. A deal remains doable but very difficult.
“Time is short. Thank u @MichelBarnier for your calm and consistent approach.”
A Home Office minister has come under fire over how security checks at the border will be carried out after freedom of movement ends.
Kevin Foster, the minister for future borders and immigration, and department officials faced questions from the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday on how border checks and immigration rules will change at the end of the Brexit transition period.
Concerns were reignited that the same level of checks for foreign criminals will no longer be carried out at the border if the UK loses access to the European security database known as SIS II (Schengen Information System).
MPs heard around 140 million people come into the country in a normal year and the UK checks SIS II around 600 million times a year, with a “significant” proportion of those thought to be related to border checks.
Mr Foster said Brexit negotiations were ongoing and UK databases could be used instead.
System in place?
But committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper asked: “Where is the system in place?
“This is really just a matter of weeks, a small number of months, until we may need to have a new system at the border and currently, as the minister responsible, you don’t seem to even know what work is being done to keep our borders safe.
“You don’t seem to be able to describe the scale of the challenge in terms of losing this crucial information about people who may be involved in serious organised crime, people who may be sex offenders, people who may be involved in extremism and you can’t describe to us any new alternative database that might have this information on it so that Border Force can take these crucial decisions.
“Why should we have any confidence in you to keep our borders safe?”
Mr Foster said: “I think the confidence we can have chair is, one, the work that we are doing and we have taken forward to secure our borders, two, the fact that we are taking forward changes to our rules.
“So the idea that there is nothing being done is, I think, rather an odd one.”
He added that there was a range of ways to carry out checks at the borders, to which Ms Cooper responded: “I slightly despair about the lack of reassurance that you are able to give us about what practical measures are going to be in place to keep our borders safe.”
In an appearance in front of MPs described by Labour committee member Andrew Gwynne as “pretty woeful throughout”, Mr Foster also faced questioning over how changes to immigration rules could affect child migrants trying to reunite with relatives and how the Home Office will ensure vulnerable people are not penalised in the process.
MPs expressed concern over the lack of detail being provided.
Ms Cooper said: “What I’m finding very hard to understand is that you haven’t done any assessment of the impact on people.
“Surely one of the conclusions of the Windrush report was that the Home Office needed to do proper impact assessments of the impact of its immigration policy decisions on the people who are affected and, in particular, vulnerable people who are affected.
“Why do you not have an assessment of the numbers of people who will be affected by this decision?”