The Frenchman suggested the European Union was ready to drop its key demands on access to Britain’s water and the application of state aid rules in order to seal a last-ditch compromise this autumn. Speaking after the fourth round of negotiations, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator said there was “no significant progress” with talks between the two sides still largely deadlocked. He conceded officials failed to break the impasse over fisheries, the regulatory level-playing field, governance and judicial cooperation between the UK and EU after three days of virtual talks.
“There has been no significant progress on these points,” Mr Barnier told reporters.
“Not since the start of the negotiations and I don’t think we can go on like this forever.”
In order to secure a deal, the Brussels bureaucrat said political leaders would have to hold crisis talks over the mandate handed to him ahead of the start of the trade talks.
Despite repeat complaints from Downing Street over the EU dragging its feet in talks, Mr Barnier conceded talks would likely run until October.
Michel Barnier concedes Brexit talks needs political intervention
Michel Barnier is the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator
He said: “Agreement of this type, such important agreements, are always agreed at the last minute, if there is agreement.
“There are issues of timing, it’s basically looking for a tunnel, that we have done on a number of previous agreements, perhaps at the end of the negotiations in October. We will no doubt need a very intensive round in order to get to the finishing line.”
“We’re going to need the coming three of four months, even if we work more intensively in July, August and September, we’re going to go right up to the line in October to find an agreement,” he added.
“This means negotiations will need now some extra political momentum. I’ve hoped that the British side will be given full leeway to negotiate on their side.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
But the Frenchman hinted it could be the EU that is about to fold in the negotiations to headway towards a deal.
In a climbdown from his previously stated “maximalist” position, Mr Barnier said the bloc would have to move towards Britain’s stance on fisheries.
He said: “We have very strong positions on both sides. The EU wants the status quo. The UK wants to change everything.
“If we want an agreement we will have to discuss somewhere in between those two position, we are prepared to discuss what needs to be discussed.”
Negotiators David Frost and Michel Barnier
The mandate handed to him by member states said Mr Barnier must “uphold” same level of access to Britain’s waters for European fishermen.
However, the Frenchman said: “We recognise that now the UK is a third country it has sovereignty over its own waters. It is no longer bound by the Common Fisheries Policy.”
And on state aid, where the mandate proposes that EU state aid rules be applied to British law, Mr Barnier signalled a compromise after complaints made by David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator, in recent weeks.
In a letter to Mr Barnier last month, Mr Frost accused the bloc of putting forward an “egregious” proposal and “simply not a provision any democratic country could sign”.
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Today, Mr Barnier refused to acknowledge the guidelines agreed by EU member states and instead pointed towards softer wording in the Political Declaration.
He said: “In trying to achieve common progress, I’ve taken account of that British concern, and I would suggest to the British side that they also need to take into account our concern about sovereignty, which is non-negotiable in all aspects of the internal market.
“So I’ve certainly taken account of this British concern, which I can understand in political terms. And it is in this spirit and in compliance with my mandate that I wrote this letter .
“So I think on this basis and in the spirit of the letter you mentioned, I think we can achieve these robust commitments that the Prime Minister referred to, to avoid any unfair competition in the field of state aid, which is a key importance when it comes to free and fair trade.
“We need to work together in order to come up with the appropriate toolbox, the robust commitments that we are clear about is how effective these mechanisms will be so they can ensure long-term fair sustainable competition between the EU and the UK, but we haven’t got there yet.”