Michel Barnier, the European Union’s (EU) chief negotiator, said that there has been no breakthrough even after the seventh round of talks between the bloc and the UK on their future relationship.
“Those who were hoping for negotiations to move swiftly forward this week will have been disappointed,” Xinhua news agency quoted Barnier as saying at a press conference in Brussels on Friday.
“Too often this week, it felt as if we were going backwards more than forwards,” he added.
Barnier blamed the British negotiators for having not shown “any real willingness to move forward on issues of fundamental importance for the EU”.
He noted that the two sides remained far apart on issues including trade, fisheries, governance and law enforcement, although progress was made on technical issues like energy cooperation and anti-money laundering.
Warning that an agreement between the UK and the EU “seems unlikely at this stage”, Barnier said he thought it was still possible to reach it “despite the relatively short time left to us”.
In order to achieve this, he stressed, the UK side “will need to come forward with clear, constructive proposals during the next round” due to take place in London in September.
Also in a statement on Friday, the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost said that a post-Brexit deal will not be easy to achieve.
“We have just concluded the seventh round of negotiations with the EU. As I said last week, agreement is still possible, and it is still our goal, but it is clear that it will not be easy to achieve,” he said in the statement.
Frost said substantive work continues to be necessary across a range of different areas of potential UK-EU future cooperation if an agreement is to be delivered.
“We have had useful discussions this week but there has been little progress,” Frost said.
“The EU is still insisting not only that we must accept continuity with EU state aid and fisheries policy, but also that this must be agreed before any further substantive work can be done in any other area of the negotiation, including on legal texts,” he added.
Frost said the EU’s stance made it unnecessarily difficult to make progress.
There are other significant areas which remain to be resolved and, even where there is a broad understanding between negotiators, there is a lot of detail to work through, he said, adding: “Time is short for both sides.”
Frost said the UK will continue to work hard to reach an agreement with the EU, adding that chief negotiators and their teams have agreed to remain in close contact over the next two weeks before the next round of talks in London from September 7.
On fisheries, one of the sticking points, the UK has said that its position remains unchanged, insisting that it will not accept any proposals which compromise British sovereignty over its own fishing waters.
Local media reported that there was no progress during the latest round of talks on quota sharing.
The EU reiterated that British position was a no go for Brussels, and the bloc was only prepared to accept minor changes at best.
On the other major issue of a so-called level playing field, a key challenge remains on subsidy control.
The UK ended its EU membership on January 31 but is still following the bloc’s rules until the transition period which will end on December 31 and enable a permanent future trade deal to be reached.
During this period, the UK would have to pay into EU funds but have no say in laws imposed by Brussels.
If Britain and the EU fail to secure a trade deal before the transitional period expires, both sides will trade under the World Trade Organization terms, under which new border controls and tariffs will mean extra cost for their trade.