UK trade deal unlikely for now, says EU, as two sides clash over post-Brexit ties

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier

LONDON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Britain and the European Union clashed on Thursday over a free trade agreement, with Brussels deeming it “unlikely” but London saying it still could be reached in September.

Since Britain left the bloc in January, talks on the trade agreement and other ties have all but stalled, with each side accusing the other of failing to compromise before a transition period runs out at the end of this year.

Those accusations grew after the latest round ended, with the EU’s negotiator Michel Barnier saying London had shown no willingness to break the deadlock and Britain’s David Frost describing the bloc’s proposals as failing to meet the government’s demand to be treated as an independent country.

But both sides agreed on one thing – there had been no movement on the thorniest issues on fair competition guarantees, or the level playing field, or on fisheries.

“By its current refusal to commit to conditions of open and fair competition and to a balanced agreement on fisheries, the UK makes a trade agreement – at this point – unlikely,” Barnier told a news conference.

“The time for answers is quickly running out,” he said. “If we do not reach an agreement on our future partnership, there will be more friction.”

Frost was equally blunt, saying “considerable gaps” remained but adding: “Despite all the difficulties, on the basis of the work we have done in July, my assessment is that agreement can still be reached in September, and that we should continue to negotiate with this aim in mind.”