The Brexit negotiations have stalled in recent months over two key issues – fisheries and regulatory alignment. Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to fulfil a Leave campaign promise that the UK will take back control of its waters post-Brexit. Previously, EU vessels had free access to British fishing grounds, leaving many fishermen in the UK aggrieved. However, the EU’s chief negotiator – Michel Barnier – has warned Mr Johnson and co cannot secure access to European markets without allowing EU vessels into UK waters. The UK is also looking to avoid EU regulations – giving the country more freedom to set its own laws on trading standards.
Brussels has warned that a trade deal can only be ratified if the UK accepts a “level playing field”.
This sticking point led to Guy Verhofstadt, then the EU’s Brexit coordinator, expressing concern over whether a deal would be reached at all.
He told the Financial Times in September 2019: “Asking for a basic trade deal with the Union while refusing regulatory alignment and tearing up their level playing field commitments means the UK will find it very difficult to achieve an ambitious trade agreement with the EU.
“In this scenario, ratification would be further jeopardised.”
According to a diplomatic note from a Commission meeting at the time, it was warned that “there could be problems to ratify an FTA at any subsequent stage unless this [level playing field] is balanced”.
EU leaders in March last year said that striking “a balanced, ambitious and wide-ranging free trade agreement” with Britain would depend on having “sufficient guarantees for a level playing field”.
Another diplomat told the Financial Times that Mr Johnson’s efforts to ditch EU regulation were as concerning as “him dropping the backstop”.
They added: “In the end there is [an] inverse relationship between the room for the UK to diverge and the comprehensiveness of a future trade deal. Without a level playing field there will not be a broad and ambitious FTA.”
Tory Brexiteer Andrew Bridgen told Express.co.uk last month that the terms offered by the EU are not acceptable.
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He told Express.co.uk: “Ultimately what the EU’s demands are, given we are now a sovereign nation, accepting EU regulations, rights to fishing grounds and the European Court of Justice to rule over the agreement of our future relationship.
“They are not demands that any independent country that hasn’t lost a war would agree to.”
Mr Bridgen also argued that the demands were “unreasonable”.
On the transition period, he added: “There was never any point to extending the transition period.
“Extending the time was never going to break the deadlock – the EU would have never changed their position.”
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In addition to this, the Tory Brexiter also blamed Brussels’ “bureaucracy” for the lack of progress between Mr Frost and Mr Barnier.
Mr Bridgen said: “One of the reasons [for the impasse] is the bureaucracy of the EU.
“They’ve got to get 27 heads of states to agree to a negotiating position, whereas David Frost can speak to Boris and Boris can make a decision.
“Barnier has to speak to the Commission, and then the Commission has got to get the approval of 27 heads of states.”