European Union chief negotiator in the Brexit negotiations with Britain, Michel Barnier, has asked for concessions from the UK government ahead of the fourth round of talks next week. The British wanted the best of both worlds and "kept picking raisins", he criticized in an interview with Deutschlandfunk. "There should be more realism in London in the near future if they want an orderly deal to exit the single market and customs union," said Barnier.
The previous three rounds of talks ended without result. The EU chief negotiator was impatient: "The British did not understand or do not want to understand that Brexit has consequences for them." The attitude in London is still that you can dance on two weddings at the same time. Above all, it is about the EU's demand for a level playing field. "We cannot accept that the UK next to us is deregulating its market to dump us."
Barnier still hopes for agreements by the end of the year
When asked whether an agreement could be reached at the end of the year as planned, Barnier said: "It is very difficult, but it is possible." Until then, there has been a transition period since Britain's exit from the EU at the end of January: Relevant regulations continue to apply to the British, Britain is still a member of the European Customs Union. The country would lose this status if no free trade agreement was signed by the end of the transition period.
Barnier said he wanted clarity next week: "I expect to find out whether the UK wants to leave the Customs Union or an agreement with us by the end of this year or without an agreement with us."
Barnier ruled out a change in his mandate, as most recently suggested by British chief negotiator David Frost. "We continue to set the conditions for access to our own market." Frost had criticized that the EU's negotiating positions could not lead to an agreement. The EU must "develop its position" in order to reach an agreement. Negotiations must show progress by the end of June: Then the time runs out in which an extension of the transition phase can still be decided. Barnier criticized that the British government does not want to accept one.
Boris Johnson takes part in the next round of talks
In the next round of negotiations, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to take part in the talks. They had been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, meanwhile Johnson, Frost and Barnier had contracted Covid-19. All three have now survived the infection. There will be a total of nine rounds of negotiations in the process, the first taking place in March. In addition to fair competitive conditions, the agenda also includes topics such as environmental, social and tax standards as well as subsidies. Migration and travel rules as well as labor standards and a common fight against crime and terrorism also need to be renegotiated.
Other disputes include fishing rights and a necessary agreement on the border between Northern Ireland and the EU member Ireland. Before the UK Parliament finally approved Brexit, this had been a particularly controversial issue: many observers fear tensions between the two areas will flare up again as well as logistical problems as soon as the territories are separated from an EU external border.