London: David Frost, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, has said that an “outline” of a deal with the European Union (EU) was visible, but “differences remain” even after six months of trade discussions between the two sides.
Frost made the remarks on Friday night after the completion of the ninth round of discussions between the two sides, saying they “were constructive discussions conducted in a good spirit” about “our future relationship”, the Daily Express newspaper reported.
“In many areas of our talks, although differences remain, the outlines of an agreement are visible. This is true of most of the core areas of a trade and economic agreement – notably trade in goods and services, transport, energy, social security, and participation in EU programmes. This has however been true for some time.
“I am also encouraged that progress has been possible on a law enforcement agreement and that there has been convergence on the structure of the overall partnership,” he was quoted as saying.
According to the newspaper report, although progress has been made in a number of areas, talks were still blocked on some contentious issues, including state aid and fisheries.
Frost further said: “On the level playing field, including subsidy policy, we continue to seek an agreement that ensures our ability to set our own laws in the UK without constraints that go beyond those appropriate to a free trade agreement.
“There has been some limited progress here but the EU needs to move further before an understanding can be reached.
“On fisheries, the gap between us is unfortunately very large and, without further realism and flexibility from the EU, risks being impossible to bridge. These issues are fundamental to our future status as an independent country.”
Regarding the chances of a deal before the October 15 summit of European leaders, the negotiator said that “there is very little time now to resolve these issues”, adding: “For our part, we continue to be fully committed to working hard to find solutions, if they are there to be found.”
Meanwhile, Frost’s EU counterpart, Michel Barnier said this week’s discussions had been held in a “constructive and respectful atmosphere”, the Daily Express reported.
He said there were “positive new developments” in areas such as aviation safety and social security coordination.
But warned that there are “persistent serious divergences on matters of major importance for the EU”.
On Saturday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are scheduled to speak in a video call, after the latter called for talks to “intensify”, as both sides set the October deadline to settle differences, the BBC reported.
The UK formally left the EU in January but entered a transition period, where the country has kept to EU trading rules and remained inside its customs union and single market, to allow the two sides to negotiate a trade deal.
Formal talks began in March and continued despite the Covid-19pandemic, but there have been concerns over whether a plan would be agreed before that period runs out on December 31.
The EU has said a deal must be reached before the end of October to allow it to be signed off by the member states before the end of the year, while Johnson has said both sides should “move on” if the agreement was not reached by the middle of the month.
If a deal is not done, the UK will go on to trade with the bloc on World Trade Organisation rules.