BRUSSELS: European doubts boiled over on Friday with France threatening a veto over a post – Brexit trade agreement with Britain as tricky talks approached what might be their final hours.
Michel Barnier and David Frost, EU and UK negotiators, were engaged in last-minute debates on fishing rights, fair trading laws and a compliance process to regulate any agreement as night fell in London.
With time running out for the deal to be ratified by the end of the year though, and ahead of Britain’s exit from the single market in the EU, EU capitals are having cold feet.
“Clement Beaune, France Minister for European Affairs, told Europe 1 radio, adding that any nation has the right to veto.” “If there is an arrangement that is not a successful one we will reject it.
A European diplomat has reported that Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark share France’s fears that Barnier will give too much ground to the rules to preserve equal competition in the scramble to reach an agreement.
The closest neighbours of Britain suspect that Germany and the European Commission are too keen to agree on an agreement to avoid damaging economic fallout.
“The diplomat said, “We don’t want to lock up an unbalanced relationship for decades to come.
We won’t want to justify to our firms why enterprising British firms in a less controlled world are undercutting them in their industry.” Germany currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU and is also the largest economy and most influential member of the bloc.”
Asked about the status of the negotiations, the spokesperson for Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Europe “is ready, but not at any price, to reach an agreement with Great Britain.”
Steffen Seibert told reporters, “It is clear that there are red lines, yet there is always room for compromise.”
So far behind Barnier, who has been fighting Frost as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces his own decision over whether to negotiate, the capitals have stayed united.
Time has been in very low supply. We are at a difficult stage in the negotiations,’ an official spokesperson for Johnson told reporters.
“What is certain is that we will not be able to agree on an agreement that does not respect and take back control of our fundamental principles of sovereignty.” A European source with knowledge of the talks said that rumours were “premature” of an eventual end to the eight months of wrangling, indicating that significant gaps persisted.
British officials have protested that, late in the course of London setting up an independent agency to control state subsidies, the EU made new demands.
Once Britain leaves a post – Brexit transition period on December 31, Downing Street insisted again that its red lines would apply: controlling UK borders, regulating its own state subsidies and managing its fishing waters.
The European Parliament has warned that if it is to properly examine it in time to enact it by the end of the year, it will need to see the text within days.
And European leaders are now going to want to know what Barnier is doing at their December 10 summit.
But European Council President Charles Michel, host of next week’s summit, praised Barnier’s work and encouraged solidarity to the last minute, the last second of the process.
Some diplomats say that, without an agreement in January, EU capitals could cause Britain to crash out of the single market and then return to fresh trade talks later in 2021.Brexit