Talks between Britain and the European Union on their new trade relationship made little progress this week, sources with the bloc said on Friday, with persistent differences on key areas weighing on chances for a deal by the end of the year.
That is when Britain is due to leave its status-quo transition period after exiting the EU earlier this year and both sides are now locked in talks on new cooperation rules from 2021 from trade to fisheries to security.
“Both sides agreed to disagree,” said one diplomat following Brexit in the EU hub Brussels as the penultimate round of scheduled negotiations wrapped up on Friday before a key deadline at the end of June.
That is when both sides are to assess progress so far and agree on any extension of talks, which London has refused to do.
Unless prolonged, the EU says any talks would need to wrap up around October to allow enough time for ratification of any new deal by the bloc’s parliament and the 27 national capitals.
EU sources said fundamental disagreements persisted on the level playing field guarantees of fair competition, fisheries and oversight role of the bloc’s top court, among other issues.
The bloc is pushing for a much closer relationship with Britain than the one envisaged by London, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson was a leading face of the Brexit campaign.
London said on Thursday Britain would not give up its rights as an independent state by bending to EU demands in talks on a future relationship.
Britain rejects many of the strings the bloc wants to attach to continued close cooperation and there has been no breakthrough on the main sticking points this week, the EU sources said ahead of a news conference by the bloc’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, later on Friday.
Britain would risk crashing out of its current elaborate EU links if no new agreement is reached or extra time granted, which would be the most damaging scenario for businesses on both sides of the English Channel.