After a week of intense negotiations in London, UK and European Union negotiators have decided to pause the talks on post-Brexit trade, citing “significant divergences” between the two sides, with just four weeks left before the end of the transition period on Dec. 31.
EU negotiator Michel Barnier and his British counterpart David Frost issued identical statements on Twitter on Friday evening, saying they had agreed that “the conditions for an agreement are not met, due to significant divergences on level playing field, governance and fisheries.”
After one week of intense negotiations in London, together with @DavidGHFrost, we agreed today that the conditions for an agreement are not met, due to significant divergences on level playing field, governance and fisheries.
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) December 4, 2020
On this basis, the negotiators “agreed to pause the talks in order to brief their Principals on the state of play of the negotiations,” they said.
Earlier on Friday, UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma told the BBC that “the time is short” and “we are in a difficult phase,” as “there are a number of tricky issues that still have to be resolved.”
“We want the EU to recognise that the UK is a sovereign and independent nation, and it is on the basis of that that a deal will be done,” he said.
Face-to-face negotiations between Britain and the EU restarted last Saturday. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Sunday that this was going to be “a very significant week, the last real major week” of talks.
UK Environment Secretary George Eustice said on Monday that “we really are now running out of time,” and that he really thought “we are now into the final week or 10 days.”
The UK officially pulled out of the EU in January but entered a transition period in which trading arrangements—such as tariffs and quotas—remained unaltered. That transition ends at midnight on Dec. 31.
UK negotiators are demanding that the deal must respect the sovereignty that many Brexit voters felt was undermined by EU membership. However, the EU is unwilling to set up a deal too similar to deals with far-flung nations such as Canada, saying that the proximity of the UK brings different dynamics into play.
Simon Veazey contributed to this report.