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Barnier blinks first: Panicking EU chief launches last-ditch bid to stop no deal Brexit
August 27, 2020
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The disheartened Frenchman urged them to lobby the Prime Minister to drop his negotiating red lines in a final bid to break the months of bitter deadlock. In a private briefing to European capitals, Mr Barnier explained his efforts to broker a free-trade agreement are on the verge of failure because he cannot convince his opposite number David Frost to move closer to the bloc’s demands for a regulatory level-playing field and access to Britain’s fishing waters for EU vessels. The Brussels bureaucrat told member state diplomats they should also be ready to re-evaluate his hardline negotiating guidelines if both sides cannot overcome their differences in the coming weeks.
“Barnier is ringing capitals to update us on the lack of progress,” one EU official told Express.co.uk.
“When leaders will be involved depends on how things develop across the next few weeks, but it’s difficult to be optimistic at the moment.”
Mr Barnier believes it will require a political push to inject life back into the stalled talks, unless there is progress when the next round of negotiations start on September 7.
An EU source said: “He thinks we’re coming to the end of the road and have gone as far as we can without serious political decisions made at the top level.”
Another EU official added: “Pretty soon either some political things have to happen or we are simply heading towards no deal – by accident, or political will.”
EU officials have admitted chances of a no deal Brexit have dramatically increased because of the ongoing stalemate.
Member states, led by France, have previously rejected attempts by Mr Barnier to water down his demands for existing Brussels rules on fishing.
After last week’s seventh round of negotiations broke up, the Frenchman accused British negotiators of “wasting valuable time”.
The EU dealmaker was banking on the Prime Minister’s lead negotiator to offer a series of concessions on fishing and state subsidies to move the talks forward.
But Mr Frost blamed the deadlock on his counterpart’s refusal to begin drafting a joint legal text for the future relationship.
Brussels sources are now more pessimistic than ever a deal can be wrapped up before the end of Britain’s post-Brexit transition in December.
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EU officials bemoaned a “completely wasted summer”, claiming the Prime Minister’s attempts to outflank the bloc’s negotiators have failed.
“We have had a whole summer completely wasted, a cabinet that doesn’t understand how negotiations work, a prime minister who, I think doesn’t understand how the negotiations work – because he is under the wrong impression that he can pull off negotiating at the eleventh hour,” one insider fumed.
Attitudes towards the UK are said to be hardening in the final months of the trade talks, with influential leaders, such as France’s Emmanuel Macron, unwilling to offer serious concessions to Britain.
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European Council President Charles Michel has shelved plans for bloc’s leaders to discuss the future relationship pact at a summit in Brussels next month.
It is understood the EU’s most senior official wants to clear post-pandemic backlog of issues to allow for one final push at their mid-October gathering.
Mr Barnier wants to use the EU Council summit as an opportunity for the UK trade deal to be rubber-stamped.