EU ministers warn time running out for UK trade deal

BRUSSELS (AFP) – European Union (EU) ministers warned yesterday that time is running out for a post-Brexit trade deal with London but said they will not back down on fair competition rules and fishing rights.

Arriving in Luxembourg for a meeting where they were to be briefed by EU negotiator Michel Barnier, ministers warned that the talks are at a “critical stage”.

“And we are extremely under pressure, time is running out,” warned Germany’s minister for European affairs Michael Roth two days ahead of a key EU summit.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said if he feels there is no hope of quick progress in the talks he could pull the plug as early as tomorrow.

Brussels does not recognise that deadline, but EU officials warn that if there is no outline of a deal by the end of the month, there may be no time to ratify it.

EU leaders will meet tomorrow and Friday in Brussels and will also hear from Barnier, but the member states are not ready to give ground on their core demands. “That’s why we expect substantial progress by our friends in the United Kingdom (UK) in key areas,” Roth said.

Minister of State for Europe at the German Federal Foreign Office Michael Roth greets delegation members as he arrives for a meeting of EU General Affairs ministers at the European Council building in Luxembourg. PHOTO: AFP

The German minister said Europe’s three main concerns were overall governance of the deal, rules for a “level playing field” on competition and when prompted by an aide: “Ah! Fisheries! Not to forget fisheries.”

For France’s Clement Beaune, fishing rights for EU fishermen in UK waters are the first issue on the list.

Beaune called for the 27 member states to remain united and “very firm on our great priorities, which are known and essential: fishing, of course, and the rules for fair trade which are the sine qua non of access to the EU market”.

Britain left the EU on January 31 and it will leave the EU single market and customs union on December 31 after an 11-month transition period.

If there is no negotiated trade agreement between the former partners, Britain’s commerce with the continent will revert to the bare bones of WTO rules – which could cause great economic and transport disruption.

Johnson’s government resisted placing the governance of a new trade arrangement under EU laws, and says it must retain sovereignty over its own fishing waters.

“Everybody should know that a no deal scenario is the worst case not just for the European Union, but also for the UK,” Roth said.

“But we are also prepared for that but we are working very hard on a good deal on a sustainable deal which is acceptable for both sides.”