The conditions for an agreement have not been met, due to major differences, “EU negotiator Michel Barnier and his British counterpart David Frost said in similar statements.
Negotiators agreed to “take a break” from discussions. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will “take stock” of the discussions on Saturday afternoon, he added.
“We have agreed to suspend discussions,” they added. “President von der Leyen and Prime Minister Johnson will discuss the state of play tomorrow afternoon.” According to a European source, the phone call is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. GMT).
Negotiators say that the same three points still block the conclusion of an agreement: the access of European fishermen to British waters, the guarantees demanded in London in terms of competition and how to settle disputes in the future agreement.
Mr Barnier, who had been in London since the start of the week, is due to return to Brussels. The Europeans aim to reach an agreement before the end of the weekend, condition for it to be ratified in time by the European Parliament to enter into force on December 31. On that date, the British, who officially left the EU on January 31, will stop applying European standards.
Without a deal to govern their relationship going forward, the UK and EU will trade under World Trade Organization rules, synonymous with tariffs or quotas, running the risk of yet another economic shock adding to that of the coronavirus pandemic.
France warned Friday morning that it would not hesitate to veto if the text did not suit it, in particular if it threatened the future of its fishermen.
“If there was an agreement that was not good (…) we would oppose it”, said the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, on radio Europe 1. With a veto? “Yes. Each country has the right of veto”, he warned, repeating that the risk of a non-agreement “exists” and that “it is necessary to prepare for it”.
“The EU has done what is necessary”
This pressure on the negotiations reflects the growing concern of Paris to see the EU granting too many concessions to the British for fear of a “no deal”.
According to a European diplomat, this apprehension is shared by other capitals, such as Rome, Madrid, Brussels and Copenhagen. “We don’t want to get locked into an unbalanced relationship for decades to come,” he explains.
A sign of the differences that are winning over the member states, several European sources affirm on the contrary that Germany, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, and the European Commission are pushing to obtain an agreement.
“There are red lines, but there is still room for compromise,” said Angela Merkel’s spokesperson, assuring however that her country would not accept an agreement “to no” any price “.
“We will hold out until the last moment, the last second of this process, to guarantee unity between us”, assured the President of the European Council, Charles Michel.
Member states will take a position “depending on what is on the table,” he insisted. A European summit bringing together the leaders of the 27 in person is scheduled for December 10 and 11 in Brussels.
“The Union has made the necessary gestures to reach a compromise. It is up to the British to make a sufficient movement to reach an agreement”, for her part pleaded the spokesperson of the Quai d’Orsay Agnès von der Mühll.
“This is the moment of truth for Johnson,” commented Nigel Farage, the British Europhobe who was instrumental in Brexit.
Fishing has appeared from the start of the discussions as a subject as symbolic as it is explosive for a handful of Member States, France and the Netherlands in the lead. French Prime Minister Jean Castex also recalled Thursday that French fishing could not be “sacrificed as an adjustment variable” in the negotiations.