MICHEL BARNIER has issued an ultimatum to the UK on Brexit trade deal talks as he threatened to walk away if Britain does not back down on its demands.
The fourth round of talks between the UK and EU are due to take place next week, with the last set of negotiations ending in stalemate. An angry exchange of letters between Michel Barnier and the UK’s representative in the talks, David Frost, took place after the failure of a breakthrough when they met over video link two weeks ago.
Now, a new ultimatum has now been issued by Brussels, threatening to walk away from the negotiating table.
Mr Barnier said the EU would not agree to a deal “at any cost” and accused the UK of failing to honour the withdrawal agreement signed between the two sides in autumn last year.
June is a crucial month in trade talks between London and Brussels, with the two sides needing to decide by the end of the month whether they believe a deal is possible by the end of the year.
If both sides agree a deal is unlikely, talks will be disbanded as the UK and EU prepare for a no deal scenario.
Speaking to The Times, Mr Barnier said: “The UK has been taking a step back — two steps back, three steps back — from the original commitments.
“The UK negotiators need to be fully in line with what the prime minister signed up to with us. Because 27 heads of state and government and the European parliament do not have a short memory.
“We remember very clearly the text which we negotiated with Boris Johnson. And we just want to see that complied with. To the letter… And if that doesnt happen, there will be no agreement.”
Mr Barnier insisted UK withdrawal from the EU was a “lose-lose” for both sides, saying no-one – not even Nigel Farage – had shown there was any “added value” to the UK’s departure.
He said, therefore, the natural next step in trade negotiations was “damage limitation”, and if no agreement were reached that would result in “even more consequences” at the worst time possible, given the coronavirus pandemic.
“So, I think we have a joint responsibility in this very serious crisis, which affects so many families… with so many deaths, so many sick people, so many people unemployed… to do everything we can to reach an agreement and I very much hope that we will do so,” he said.
Last week saw battle lines being drawn as Mr Frost and Mr Barnier prepare for the fourth round of negotiations on Britain’s future trade relationship with the bloc.
A war of words broke out after Mr Barnier told a German radio station that “the British have not understood, or they do not want to understand, that Brexit has consequences for them”.
But Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, said: “What the EU is asking of us is unprecedented in any of the free trade agreements that they signed, or indeed contemplated signing, with other economies.”
He added the EU wants countries it sees as within “its sphere of influence, to sign up to a higher level of compliance with EU rules and a higher level of EU supervision”.
Major deadlocks to the deal continue to be fishing, where the EU is demanding the status quo and access to British fishing waters.
Brussels is also infuriated at Britain’s refusal to engage in negotiations about measures with which the EU wish to bind the UK to swathes of regulation and oversight from EU judges.
The crucial week of negotiations that could mark the final hope for a deal will begin on Tuesday.
Hundreds of officials will hold video talks from London and Brussels.
The EU and Britain have until the end of the year to reach a deal on future ties, without which trade links could be seriously compromised, even as the fallout from the coronavirus saps their economies.