BRUSSELS: The EU and Britain on Thursday underlined major differences as a first round of trade talks ended in Brussels, with no progress on the most contentious issues.
Both sides are trying to establish new grounds for the future of EU-UK relations, just a month after Britain’s divorce from the European Union following 40 years of an often tumultuous membership.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier insisted that, while talks were cordial, “many serious divergences” remained after four days of meetings in Brussels that involved scores of officials on each side.
The British government offered a very similar analysis, warning that despite a “constructive tone... there are, as expected, significant differences,” a spokesman said.
The divergent positions have been known for a while, with the UK determined to make a clean break from EU rule-making and the EU insisting on upholding its standards on health, state aid and the environment.
“The UK spent a lot of time this week, insisting on its independence. Ladies and gentlemen, nobody, nobody contests the UK’s independence,” Barnier said.
“And we ask the UK to respect our own independence,” he said.
‘Very serious divergences’
Barnier said talks had snagged on all these issues including the ability to ensure fair competition from British companies, often referred to as keeping a “level playing field”.
“To be completely frank with you... there are many divergences, and they are very serious divergences, which is probably quite natural,” Barnier said.
“The British tell us that they still have these ambitions of high standards, but they do not want to translate these commitments into a common agreement,” he said.
Another problem was Britain’s unwillingness to accept jurisprudence from the EU’s top court as well as the European Court on Human Rights; London contends they are not a typical demand of trade deals.
However, “when it comes to the protection of the rights of European citizens, the interpretation of European law will and can only be done” by the EU court, he insisted.
Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2020