Brexit: Negotiator David Frost says UK not scared of walking away

The UK’s chief Brexit negotiator has said the government is not “scared” of walking away from talks without a trade deal ready to come into force in 2021. David Frost told the Mail on Sunday the UK would leave the transition arrangement – which sees it follow many EU rules – “come what may” in December. And Dominic Raab said the “EU’s best moment to strike a deal is now.”

But EU negotiator Michel Barnier has said he is “worried and disappointed” by a lack of concessions from the UK. He was speaking after informal talks between the pair failed to find a breakthrough. An eighth round of formal negotiations begins on Tuesday.

Both sides want a deal agreed next month in order to have it signed off by politicians on both sides of the Channel by the end of the transition period on 31 December. Differences remain on issues such as fishing and the level of taxpayer support the UK will be able to provide for businesses, also referred to as state aid rules. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the week ahead was “a wake-up call for the EU”, adding “the EU’s best moment to strike a deal is now.”

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme, he said the questions of fishing and state aid were “the only two points holding us back”. On fishing, he accused the EU of wanting to keep UK access to its fishing waters “permanently low”. He also said providing state aid is “an absolute critical element of policy making” which UK political representatives should have control over.

The EU has said it wants full access for its boats to fish in UK waters in return for giving the UK fishing industry full access to EU markets. On state aid, the EU has expressed concern that it could give business in the UK an unfair advantage over their European competitors and Mr Barnier has previously said the EU will require “robust” guarantees in this area if it is to agree a deal. Lord Frost told the newspaper: “A lot of what we are trying to do this year is to get them to realise that we mean what we say and they should take our position seriously.”

‘Unsurprising muscle-flexing’

Analysis by Chris Mason, Political Correspondent, BBC News

The UK left the European Union in February but until the end of December it is in a transition period, where very little has actually changed. The time left to negotiate a long-term arrangement between London and Brussels is tight, and the language from Lord Frost is defiant. “We are not going to be a client state,” he says. “We are not going to accept provisions that lock us into the way the EU do things.”

While this is his first interview since the UK left the EU, officials in Brussels are familiar with his arguments. One described the remarks as “unsurprising muscle-flexing”. Sources there say what they can’t accept is the UK having the freedom to undercut businesses on the continent in their own single market.

The time for compromise is running short. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but there’s no guarantee it will.

In the interview, Lord Frost said wanting control over the country’s money and affairs “should not be controversial”. “That’s what being an independent country is about, that’s what the British people voted for and that’s what will happen at the end of the year,” he said.

“I don’t think that we are scared of this at all. We want to get back the powers to control our borders and that is the most important thing.” The government was “fully ready” to trade with the EU without a formal deal, he said.

In practice, this would mean taxes on exports and customs checks. It’s a scenario which road hauliers say would cause “severe” disruption to supply chains, with border management systems not yet up and running to make sure consignments are cleared to proceed to the EU.

‘Brass neck’

Last week, the Road Haulage Association said the UK was “sleepwalking into a disaster”. Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves said “It would be the clearest evidence yet of this government’s monumental incompetence if we ended the transition period without negotiating a trade deal with our most important market.

“As we enter an economic recession, ministers need to get a grip, support UK jobs and industries and deliver the trade deal with the EU they promised the British public.”

Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey accused the government of being “very reckless” and said failing to reach a deal with the EU would be “a disaster for people’s jobs”.

And Gavin Barwell, chief of staff under Theresa May, hit back at Lord Frost’s suggestion that the former prime minister’s team “blinked” during EU negotiations tweeting: “Given the withdrawal agreement and political declaration David Frost negotiated last autumn were 95% the work of his predecessors – and the 5% that was new involved giving in to the EU’s key demand (for some customs processes when goods move GB to NI) – that quote’s some brass neck.”

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