BRUSSELS (AP) – Talks between the European Union and the United Kingdom on their future relationship in the wake of Brexit have ground to a near-standstill despite the urgency for progress before a summit next month.
The U.K.’s chief negotiator, David Frost, said in a statement Friday that â€œwe have made very little progress towards agreement on the most significant outstanding issues.”
The two sides remain at odds over a range of key issues including fishing and the role of high courts in settling future disputes.
A third week-long negotiation session drew to a close Friday, but so far, just over 100 days after the U.K.â€˜s official exit from the EU, fundamental gaps are still yawning.
â€œIt is hard to understand why the EU insists on an ideological approach which makes it more difficult to reach a mutually beneficial agreement,” Frost said.
EU negotiator Michel Barnier later told a news conference in Brussels that â€œthere was no progress on all the most difficult issues.”
In little over a month, the EU leaders and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson are scheduled to have a summit, likely on video, to take stock of the talksâ€™ progress.
Britain officially left the 27-nation bloc on Jan. 31, but remains within the EUâ€™s economic and regulatory orbit until the end of the year. The two sides have until then to work out a new relationship covering trade, security and a host of other issues – or face a chaotic split that would be economically disruptive for both sides, but especially for the U.K.
The U.K.-EU divorce agreement allows for the deadline to be extended by two years, but Johnsonâ€™s government insists it won’t lengthen the transition period beyond Dec. 31.
Most trade deals take years to negotiate, so finishing something as fundamental as this in 11 months would be a Herculean task at the best of times. Many politicians, experts and diplomats believe it is impossible during a pandemic that has focused governmentsâ€™ resources on preserving public health and averting economic collapse.
If no deal on their future relationship is agreed by then, a cliff-edge economic departure would loom again for Britain, with uncertainly over customs rules, airline slots, financial regulation and other standards.
Both sides are already facing a serious recession because of the pandemic and a chaotic split on Dec. 31 wouldnâ€™t help.
Jill Lawless reported from London.