David Frost, Boris Johnson’s lead negotiator, has told senior Conservative Party members to forget attempting to divide EU member states in a bid to ramp up pressure on Brussels. Express.co.uk understands his Task Force Europe will not rely on Germany’s Angela Merkel to make a late intervention in the negotiations to maintain access to Britain for her country’s motor vehicle industry.
The Government’s new stance leaves claims by former Brexit secretary David Davis in ruins, who believes the EU will shift its position to facilitate continued trade with Britain for the bloc’s biggest economy.
He last month told the Financial Times: “The nickname in the German car industry for us is treasure island… we are a highly profitable, very important market.”
Negotiators Mr Frost and Michel Barnier ended a “constructive” first round of trade talks in Brussels today.
They focused their efforts on attempting to find common ground and “divergences”, where future work needs to be done in order to reach a deal.
Both sides are confident a deal can be done by the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.
A UK Government spokesman said: “We have just concluded the first round of negotiations, and are pleased with the constructive tone from both sides that has characterised these talks.
“This round was a chance for both sides to set out their positions and views. Following detailed discussions, we now have a good idea where both parties are coming from.
“These are going to be tough negotiations – this is just the first round. In some areas, there seems to be a degree of common understanding of how to take the talks forward.
“In other areas, such as fishing, governance, criminal justice and the so-called ‘level playing field’ issues there are, as expected, significant differences. The UK team made clear that, on 1 January 2021, we would regain our legal and economic independence – and that the future relationship must reflect that fact.
“We look forward to continuing these talks in the same constructive spirit when the parties meet again in London on March 18.”
But Mr Barnier warned Mr Johnson’s reluctance to commit to the European convention on human rights could sink any future deal.
In a bid to maintain joint-cooperation in fighting terrorism and crime, the EU and UK have agreed to work on a new security pact.
The Brussels negotiator said the British position on the role of European courts posed a threat to “the level of ambition of our cooperation” on fighting crime, terror and money laundering.
He told reporters the UK claimed “they do not wish formally to commit to continuing to apply the European convention on human rights, nor do they wish to permit the European Court of Justice to play its full role in interpreting EU law.”
Mr Barnier said this could hinder sharing arrangements on personal data, DNA and extradition because the bloc says accepting the ECJ as the final arbiter of the bloc’s law is a “must have” in any deal.
He said: “This is serious, I say this is grave because if the United Kingdom’s position does not move it will have an immediate and concrete effect on the level of ambition of our cooperation.”
The Government has not said it will quit the European convention on human rights but does not believe Brussels should demand obligations in the treaty.
Mr Frost is happy to accept the ECJ as the final arbiter of EU law but will not allow that to be written in to any deal because it will contain zero of the bloc’s legislation.
With the threat of no deal still on the table, British negotiators believe EU countries will have to make a number of significant changes in their relationship with Britain.
Mr Barnier warned this would be “very, very different” from the current status quo with the UK inside the bloc’s customs union and single market.
He added: “Our differences come as no surprise, especially after one round of negotiations but some are very, very difficult.
“I continue to believe we can reach a good agreement for both sides, the past few days have been constructive.”
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