UK to publish draft treaty in effort to reboot Brexit process | Politics

British negotiators fear Michel Barnier has been unable to get EU leaders to focus on Brexit trade and security talks as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, as Downing Street prepares to publish a draft treaty this week in an effort to reboot the process.

David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator, believes his EU counterpart recognises the need to budge on key issues, including fisheries, over which France, the Netherlands and Spain have imposed a tough line.

Barnier said on Friday that he expected both sides to shift from their “maximalist” stance on access to British waters by June. It is hoped in Whitehall that laying out legal text will prompt EU states to become more engaged with discussions over all aspects of the future relationship.

The UK document in treaty form will lay bare the stark differences between the two sides on key areas after what both agreed had been another disappointing round of talks last week.

Downing Street believes the British position has so far been mischaracterised, and a UK source close to the negotiations described the EU’s attitude to date as bewildering.

Senior government figures are convinced that part of the problem lies in European governments being distracted by the pandemic.

On Friday, Barnier accused the British negotiators of again seeking to cherrypick membership of the bloc by seeking minimal obligations on standards in the trade in goods and maximum rights.

“We have been clear that we are not looking for that,” said one UK source close to the negotiation. “Anyone who thinks this government has got nostalgia for 2018 or Chequers has an imperfect understanding of UK political developments in the last couple of years.

“The only explanation I can find is that their arguments on the merits are not working and they are reaching for some of the old script. But it doesn’t fit the actual situation we are now trying to negotiate.”

Boris Johnson resigned from his post as foreign secretary in Theresa May’s government in July 2018 following publication of a vision of a trade deal agreed by the cabinet at the prime minister’s Chequers retreat. It outlined a close trading relationship based on alignment between EU and UK laws.

UK sources said the requests Barnier cited as evidence for his claims, including freedom of movement for short visits and recognition of professional qualifications to enable British lawyers, accountants and auditors to work in the EU, were all included in previous free trade deals.

With British negotiators determined to energise the talks, the forthcoming legal text will highlight a series of areas where there are mutual interests, including the maintenance of the British car industry and its supply chains.

For vehicles exported to the EU from the UK to receive preferential tariff rates it would have to be shown that at least 50% of their components were British-manufactured.

The UK government wants to include EU-derived components in that 50% through so called “third-country cumulation”, a proposal that Barnier had not embraced in full, Whitehall sources said.

Barnier’s team has also rejected the UK’s proposals to reduce the administrative burden of sanitary and phytosanitary checks at borders to protect human, animal and plant life, it is claimed. The UK is seeking equivalence between EU and British rules and the legal text is expected to detail how that might work.

EU sources have said that on fisheries they were encouraged by the provision last week of a framework agreement on how the UK intends to open its waters to European fleets. “I think the UK has moved since the beginning,” one EU official said. “Originally they said they didn’t want an agreement on this, but since then they’ve expressed a wish to discuss fisheries and get an agreement.”

British sources said it remained the case that the UK would not allow the continuation of the common fisheries policy in which historical patterns of catches determine today’s hauls. The UK’s proposal is expected to be part of the documents made public.

The pressure is on both sides to find common ground as the point by which any extension to the transition period would have to be agreed looms.

Under the withdrawal agreement, an extension of “up to one or two years” must be agreed by 1 July. The two teams will restart talks in the first week of June.

EU officials said there was no other legal avenue to an extension. “We have seen in the last days several articles and reflections [asking] is this the only way,” the official said. “This is the last moment to ask this question of the transition period.”

A UK spokesman said: “We intend to make public all the UK draft legal texts during next week so that the EU’s member states and interested observers can see our approach in detail.”

One UK source close to the negotiation said Barnier was “doing a good job with the hand he has been given” but added that the mandate handed to him by the EU capitals was “unnegotiable” in key areas.

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