A first of three rounds of talks on a post-Brexit trade deal have taken place via video conferencing despite the distraction of managing the COVID-19 pandemic, leading news websites are reporting.
A further two rounds are due to take place before June, the last point at which Britain can request more time to negotiate a deal with the EU.
However, the EU’s lead negotiator, Michel Barnier, accused Britain of failing to engage seriously in the first round of talks, said to involve more than 100 officials. He said the UK was “winding down the clock” towards the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.
Barnier even called the first round of talks between Britain and its biggest trading partner as “surreal”.
UK officials are said to “listen politely to us presenting our text, but they don’t engage in [areas] where they don’t have an interest in reach an agreement,” the Irish Times quoted a senior EU official as saying.
In response the UK has called for the EU to treat it like a “sovereign nation”, saying the bloc was demanding unnecessary and “unprecedented” level playing field rules in exchange for tariff-free trade.
The Guardian quotes a UK spokesperson as saying the “EU’s offer on goods trade falls well short of recent precedents in free trade agreements” with other sovereign nations, considerably reducing “the practical value of the zero-tariff, zero-quota aspiration we both share.”
Britain’s chief negotiator, David Frost, tweeted:
“We support high standards. But there is no need for novel and unprecedented ‘level playing field’ rules, for example tying us to EU laws, or a role for the EU court. What the EU proposes is unlike anything agreed in other such FTAs and we will not agree to it here.”
UK ministers, including Liz Truss, international trade minister during a webinar last week, are insisting they will not request an extension to the December transition deadline.
"Our view is that we can get these negotiations done, that extending the timeline will simply extend the period of uncertainty. One of the points of announcing the UK Global Tariff is to give certainty to business.”
If no deal is struck by then, the UK will automatically default to World Trade Organisation rules in doing business with the EU.