PARIS – On the cusp of a crucial month of negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal between the European Union and the U.K., France has lambasted British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government for what it sees as deliberate stalling and for harboring unreasonable expectations.
The 27-nation EU and the U.K. remain deadlocked in their talks on future trade ties after a transitional divorce period ends on Dec. 31. That has raised concerns that no agreement will be in place in time and that tariffs and other impediments to trade will be imposed on Jan. 1.
“Negotiations are not advancing, because of the intransigent and unrealistic attitude of the United Kingdom," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told his nation's ambassadors Monday in Paris.
His comments underscored the recent pessimistic tone of the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, who has said the talks seem to be moving backward.
Britain left the EU on Jan. 31 but both sides hoped that a chaotic Brexit departure could be avoided by striking a comprehensive trade deal during the 11-month transition period.
Both sides say September will be a crucial month in the discussions. The EU, for its part, insists that the talks conclude before November to allow time for parliamentary approval and legal vetting of the trade deal.
And Le Drian insisted that the 27 EU nations won't buckle under pressure from London.
“On Brexit, we always showed unity and proved wrong those who saw signs of an overall implosion of Europe,” he said. “It is in staying united that we can stick to our line of a global accord."
The main differences appear to center on rules for state aid for businesses and on fisheries.
The EU is insisting on a “level-playing field" for companies from both sides, so British firms can't undercut EU firms by disregarding stringent EU rules on environment or workplace and social standards. The U.K. is also vexed by EU demands for long-term access to British fishing waters.
Britain accuses the bloc of making demands that it has not imposed on other countries it has free trade deals with, such as Canada.
“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, making it unnecessarily difficult to make progress," the U.K. government said.
Both sides say they want to avoid a “no-deal” scenario and want their divorce not to impede cooperation in the fields of defense, security and fighting crime.
The next round of talks between Barnier and his British counterpart, David Frost, begins in London on Sept. 7.
Casert reported from Brussels. Jill Lawless in London and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.
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