LONDON • When British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a videoconference with leaders of the European Union last month, officials on both sides came away optimistic that a deal on their post-Brexit relationship was in sight. That confidence is evaporating.
Informal meetings between the British and EU’s chief negotiators since then have failed to make progress, said people with knowledge of the discussions.
A spokesman for Mr Johnson yesterday said Britain will continue to engage constructively with the EU in talks on a future relationship, but London is not willing to give up its rights as an independent state.
“Our position on our sovereignty, laws and fisheries is clear, we will not give up our rights as an independent state,” the spokesman told reporters.
“We will continue to engage constructively with the EU on these key issues and will work hard to reach the broad outline of an agreement, but as we have been clear all along, we are not asking for a special, bespoke or unique deal.”
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier had signalled the bloc is ready to give ground on the three most contentious topics in the negotiations: EU vessels’ access to British fishing waters; how closely Britain will stay aligned to European rules on state aid; and what role the European Court of Justice will play in policing the pact.
The EU side is baffled that Britain has not shown any indication of where it is willing to compromise, one official said.
Part of Britain’s lack of movement can be explained by London believing it has the upper hand. Not only does Mr Johnson appear comfortable with cutting ties with the EU without a deal, British officials argue that in many areas – on fisheries, for example – European countries will eventually believe it is better to swallow Britain’s hard-line position because they would be even worse off than in the event of no deal being reached.
Yesterday, Mr Barnier and Mr Johnson’s Europe adviser David Frost began their first full round of negotiations for six weeks with a dinner in London.
Britain left the EU in January and is in a status quo transition period until the end of the year, when some companies fear disruption if the two sides fail to secure a free trade deal.
The talks, which conclude at Thursday lunchtime, will also cover areas ranging from energy to security cooperation. A final negotiating round is set for the week of Aug 17.
Mr Johnson, meanwhile, is facing a rebellion from members of his Conservative Party seeking to amend government legislation and give Parliament a veto on new trade deals.
MP Jonathan Djanogly, who is heading the push for the amendment, suggested that the government’s reluctance to give lawmakers a say over future trade deals is at odds with the Leave campaign’s promise in the referendum to “take back control”.