David Frost has briefed the Cabinet that trade talks could end in no deal because the EUs chief Brexit negotiator continues to insist key Brussels demands must be resolved before serious progress can be made.He told ministers the Frenchman is “losing the argument” but has little room for manoeuvre because of his reluctance to ask European capitals to change his negotiating mandate. In the withdrawal talks, Mr Barnier convinced former prime minister Theresa May that progress could only be made on an agreement after she had accepted the controversial Irish border backstop and multi-billion pound Brexit divorce bill must be included in the final deal.
British negotiators believe the Brussels bureaucrat is now desperately “reaching for the old script” and demanding access to Britains fishing waters, a regulatory level-playing field and a role for the EU judges in overseeing the countrys standards before allowing negotiations to move forward.
Relations hit rock-bottom last week after Downing Street was left “bewildered” by claims it was not willing to pay the price for access to the blocs single market.
In a fiery rant, Mr Barnier also accused the Government of not understanding the consequences of Brexit.
No10 has always insisted the UK wants a Canada-style free-tree agreement and is even willing to accept some trade tariffs and quotas to seal the deal.
A UK source close to the negotiations said: “Weve been clear that we are not looking for that.
“Anyone who thinks this Government has got nostalgia for 2018 or Chequers has an imperfect understanding of UK political developments in the last couple of years.
“The only explanation is that their arguments on the merits are not working, and theyre reaching for some of the old script but it doesnt fit the actual situation that were now trying to negotiate.”
Mr Frost has personally warned Mr Johnson that the EU might not be willing to make any trade-offs on its fundamental demands, even if the Prime Minister was to intervene in the negotiations in a bid to overcome the impasse.
European capitals handed Mr Barnier a mandate for the trade talks before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic brought the Continent to a standstill.
EU leaders have ruled out making changes as their attention is now consumed by recovering from the economic fallout of their lockdowns.
British negotiators have even expressed sympathy for the Frenchman, who they say has been handed an impossible job by member states.
The UK source added: “Mr Barnier must know that his mandate is non-negotiable in at least some important areas, but hes doing his best with it.”
Mr Frost has given the EU two weeks to change its tactics before both sides convene for their next formal negotiating round.
The two sides have just six weeks to break the deadlock before the deadline to extend the post-Brexit transition period expires.
The Prime Ministers chief Brexit negotiator last week said: “We made very little progress towards agreement on the most significant outstanding issues.
“It is hard to understand why the EU insists on an ideological approach which makes it more difficult to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. We very much need a change in EU approach for the next round beginning on June 1.”