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The Brussels diplomat held talks with UK counterpart Lord Frost in Brussels yesterday as part of their intensified wrangling over the future relationship. They decided to take a short break after failing to make a breakthrough on the key sticking points of access to Britain’s fishing waters, future common standards and policing the final agreement. But after their meeting, it was alleged Lord Frost, the Prime Minister’s Brexit envoy, had called off talks in the hope of a Donald Trump election victory handing the UK extra leverage over the EU.
A Brussels source said the break was simply to allow the two negotiators and their teams a short break, as well as time to talk to their political leaders.
They said: “We’ve been negotiating flat out for two weeks, it makes sense to have a break.”
And a UK official said the claim was “nonsense”, adding the spare time will be used to reflect ahead of a fresh round of talks.
Mr Barnier and Lord Frost are set to meet in London on Sunday in the hope of moving the negotiations forward.
They were said to have made “considerable” progress putting pen to paper on the joint legal text, but couldn’t make significant breakthroughs on the outstanding issues.
However, Mr Barnier did warn MEPs that he believed the UK was attempting to draw out the talks until the final minutes in order to secure concessions.
In a private meeting with the European Parliament’s Brexit committee, he said there was a “great deal of frustration” amongst his team with Lord Frost’s negotiating tactics.
According to a source in the meeting, Mr Barnier said: “We’re seeing the British applying tactics that we are well familiar with where they’re trying to push all of the interests that they want access to our markets and then blocking any areas where we want to make headway.”
The Frenchman added: “The chances of no deal are increasing.”
Mr Barnier promised he will be “quite tough” with Lord Frost when the pair meet in London on Sunday afternoon.
One EU diplomat said: “One would have thought a fortnight from the deadline that more movement under the radar would be apparent but so far the Commission hasn’t been able to tell us that things are moving.
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“Is this a brinkmanship strategy? We don’t know, but as a ploy to get what they want it would fail.”
A second source said: “The Brits are deliberately running down the clock in the hope of getting what they want at the last minute – but anything can happen at five minutes to midnight.”
Ahead of the next round of talks, senior members of both negotiating sides will hold video calls to further hammer out details on the level-playing field and governance.
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Lord Frost said there were still “wide divergences” between the two sides after the talks broke up.
He said: “We’ve just finished two weeks of intensive talks with the EU.
“Progress made, but I agree with Michel Barnier that wide divergences remain on some core issues. We continue to work to find solutions that fully respect UK sovereignty.”
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