EU negotiator Michel Barnier wrote to UK opposition parties saying the bloc is “open” to a two year delay. But British counterpart David Frost insisted the deadline remains because the country needs “political and economic freedom” and does not want to pay “significant” amounts into EU coffers. Mr Frost said it is the “firm policy of the Government that we will not extend” the transition period and “we would not agree to it” if asked.
“I think we have always put a lot of emphasis on economic and political freedom at the end of this year and on avoiding ongoing significant payments into the EU budget,” he said.
“And, of course, those things are accomplished by ending the transition period at the end of the year.”
Under the terms of withdrawal from the EU, Britain only has until July 1 to decide whether to extend the transition period.
Mr Barnier had repeated the bloc’s openness to an extension in a letter to leaders of smaller parties in Westminster, including the SNP, Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru after they contacted him about the talks.
David Frost has issued the warning to Michel Barnier
He said: “Such an extension of up to one or two years can be agreed jointly by the two parties.
“The European Union has always said that we remain open on this matter.”
The Brexit transition began when the UK legally left the EU on January 31 and is due to conclude at the end of the year.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold crunch talks with EU leaders next month where it had been hoped the outline of an agreement could be signed off.
But Mr Frost said there is a “long way between” the UK and the bloc in the discussions on reaching a trade deal and urged Brussels to make compromises.
He told MPs the UK believes the EU’s approach “in key areas is not a mandate that is likely to produce an agreement that can be agreed with us”.
“If you’re asking do we think the EU needs to evolve its position to reach an agreement? Yes, we do,” he said.
’The EU’s “unusual” demand for future fishing rights to remain the same as they are now remains a major stumbling block.
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Michel Barnier today asked opposition leaders to back his extension plan
I think it’s fair to say that we have a fundamental disagreement at the moment on most aspects of the level playing field.
Mr Frost said: “To be fair, Mr Barnier has given a few public signals that he thinks this may not be a completely realistic position and we’ll have to see if they can move forward on that.
“Clearly it’s not a runner for us.”
Mr Frost said it is the job of a “good negotiator” like his counterpart to “assess reality and the genuine positions of the other side and a genuine ability to move”.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman reiterated the warning to Brussels
He said: “If you don’t assess reality in a cold way then you don’t get agreements, and I would expect that he’d be doing that, in fact I’m sure he is.”
Mr Frost said there is also a “big gap” in negotiations over EU demands for so-called level playing field rules being established.
He said: “I think it’s fair to say that we have a fundamental disagreement at the moment on most aspects of the level playing field.”