The European Union’s chief negotiator informed capitals he believes his UK counterpart David Frost will be the first to concede in a move towards a middle-ground compromise deal. His team told diplomats Downing Street will push hard to break the deadlock to avoid the impression they are failing. Mr Frost, the Prime Minister’s lead negotiator, could even drop his refusal to engage on some of the EU’s most controversial demands, Mr Barnier claimed.
The Frenchman last week said he is willing to compromise on the bloc’s hardline stance if British officials agreed to move towards his position on a post-Brexit trade deal.
It would allow both sides to claim victory and an end to the bitter stalemate ahead of a high-level summit between Boris Johnson and EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen later this summer.
An EU source told Express.co.uk: “The Commission expects more engagement from Britain in order to create a landing zone ahead of the high-level meeting.”
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said any agreement would require Brussels to reconsider its position to balance the benefits to both sides in the talks.
Brussels expects UK to blink first in battle over Brexit trade deal
Michel Barnier is the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator
The spokesman said: “In relation to the level-playing field, the EU have insisted on inserting these novel and unbalanced proposals, which would subject the UK to UK laws or standards.
“These proposals are unprecedented for a free-trade agreement.
“As soon as the EU recognises that we will not accept an agreement on that basis we will be able to make progress.
“We’re hoping this latest latest round of talks is constructive and we hope it will keep the progress on track ahead of the high-level meeting this month.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
Relations between the UK and EU have become strained during negotiations, with the two sides regularly clashing over future fishing rights and the so-called regulatory level-playing field.
EU officials, including Mr Barnier, have complained about the aggressive tone of the talks in recent weeks.
However, Mr Frost’s Taskforce Europe has been undeterred by the combative nature of the talks, insisting it is healthy in a trade negotiation between two sovereign equals.
The UK side believes it has picked up a few areas where the EU might be willing to compromise but has found it hard to pick up “signals” from the bloc’s negotiating team.
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Negotiators David Frost and Michel Barnier
Some officials have accused the bloc of deliberately sending negotiations in circles by refusing to hold proper discussions on the most contentious areas.
They hope to return to face-to-face talks as soon as possible, with the fourth round due to be carried out via video conference.
Fisheries is considered one area where both sides could reach an early compromise in the coming weeks.
They have packed out this week’s agenda with no fewer than four sessions on access to territorial fishing waters.
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Mr Frost wants to build momentum ahead of an autumn ultimatum where Britain could eventually walk away from the negotiating table if a deal does not look possible.
He has advised the Prime Minister this would result in Britain doing business with the EU on world trade terms for the long run because there is very little scope to pick negotiations up again after the transition period expires at the end of the year.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly insisted he will not extend the standstill arrangement that keeps Britain tied to the bloc’s single market and customs union.