Brexit: Michel Barnier launches blistering attack on UK over major 'problems' in negotiations

Michel Barnier has attacked the UK government over its Brexit negotiations with the EU. (European Commission)
Michel Barnier has attacked the UK government over its Brexit negotiations with the EU. (European Commission)

Michel Barnier has launched a blistering attack on the UK over major “problems” in the Brexit negotiations.

The EU’s chief negotiator said the UK is refusing to extend its “transition period” and accused the government of “slowing down” discussions.

It comes after a week of talks, led by Barnier and the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost, discussing the two sides’ post-Brexit relationship.

Barnier said at a press conference on Friday: “We cannot accept selective progress on a limited set of issues only. We need to find solutions on the most difficult topics.

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (R) and the British Prime Minister's Europe adviser David Frost pose for a photograph at start of the first round of post-Brexit trade deal talks between the EU and the United Kingdom, in Brussels on March 2, 2020. (Photo by Olivier HOSLET / POOL / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER HOSLET/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
The UK's David Frost and EU's Michel Barnier led a round of negotiations this week. (OLIVIER HOSLET/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

“The UK cannot refuse to extend the transition period and at the same time slow down discussions on important areas.”

He said the UK “failed to engage substantially” on issues such as a future trade deal and that “we made no progress on fisheries”.

Barnier added: “We both want a close relationship here but we face problems – the UK refuses to provide firm guarantees rather than vague principles on fundamental rights and individual freedoms.”

The UK, after leaving the EU on 31 January, is currently in a transition period in which the two sides have until 31 December to agree their future relationship.

April 12th 2020 - Boris Johnson has been released from the hospital after being treated for symptoms of the coronavirus. - April 5th 2020 - Boris Johnson has been admitted to the hospital after displaying symptoms of the coronavirus. - March 27th 2020 - Boris Johnson - Prime Minister of The United Kingdom - has tested positive for the coronavirus. - File Photo by: zz/KGC-254/STAR MAX/IPx 2019 7/24/19 Boris Johnson delivers his first speech as Prime Minister of The United Kingdom outside Number 10 Downing Street. (London, England, UK)
Boris Johnson fought the 2019 general election on a promise to 'get Brexit done'. (AP Images)

During the transition period, the UK effectively remains a member of the EU. The transition period can be extended for up to two years, but Downing Street must give notice of this by 30 June.

Because of the coronavirus crisis, there have been calls for Number 10 to extend the transition period, with leaders primarily focused on the pandemic.

However, the government has insisted it will not be seeking an extension.

If a “future relationship” agreement is not reached with the EU, the UK will then trade with the EU on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms – the same as what a “no-deal” Brexit would have entailed.

Read more: 16 pictures that tell the story of five years of utter Brexit chaos

Two more rounds of talks are expected in the weeks beginning 11 May and 1 June, before a high-level meeting later in June to review the progress made.

Barnier said: “We must use these rounds to make real, tangible progress across all areas.

“A new partnership with the UK can only be built on trust.”

He earlier insisted the EU “respects” the UK’s Brexit timetable but warned: “The clock is ticking.”

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