| 15.9°C Dublin

Brexit talks lurch as UK keeps 'no deal' exit on the table

No signs of trade deal progress as EU proposals for 'level playing field' are rejected by British negotiators

Close

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts outside 10 Downing Street during the Clap for our Carers campaign in support of the NHS, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts outside 10 Downing Street during the Clap for our Carers campaign in support of the NHS, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

REUTERS

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts outside 10 Downing Street during the Clap for our Carers campaign in support of the NHS, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted his country will work to thrash out a Brexit deal in a call with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, despite strained talks in Brussels.

Mr Johnson told Mr Varadkar that the UK will work hard to reach an agreement on a future relationship with the European Union, which he said is still possible, on a phone call last night. That's according to an account of the call from Downing Street.

Earlier though, UK and European Union negotiators traded threats over a Brexit free trade deal, each warning that unless the other side gave ground there would be no deal - a scenario that would convulse global trade as the world aims to exit the coronavirus lockdown.

The United Kingdom left the EU on January 31 but the main terms of its membership remain in place for a transition period until the end of this year, giving it time to negotiate a free trade deal with the bloc.

"We made very little progress towards agreement on the most significant outstanding issues between us," UK chief negotiator David Frost said after a week of talks.

The main sticking point has been so-called 'level playing field' rules to harmonise regulation, which the EU says are needed to ensure Britain does not undercut its standards, but which Britain rejects as binding it to European laws.

Mr Frost said the major obstacle to a deal was the EU's insistence on including a set of "novel and unbalanced" proposals on the level playing field.

The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said Britain had refused to engage in full conversation about the issue, and that there had been little progress.

"As soon as the EU recognises that we will not conclude an agreement on that basis, we will be able to make progress," Mr Frost said.

"We very much need a change in EU approach for the next round beginning on 1 June."

EU sources said there had been little progress on the negotiations that will shape post-Brexit trade between the EU and Britain in almost everything from fishing and farming to pharmaceutical rules and tariffs.

"Both sides agreed to disagree," said one diplomat in the EU hub of Brussels as the penultimate round of scheduled negotiations wrapped up on Friday before a deadline at the end of June.

After years of Brexit political chaos in London, investors and companies are trying to work out if London and Brussels are simply ratcheting up the rhetoric or are so far apart that there could be a cliff-edge at the end of 2020.

The EU says talks need to wrap up around October to allow enough time for ratification.

Additional reporting Reuters

Irish Independent