LONDON (AP) — Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator talked tough ahead of a crucial round of post-Brexit trade talks, saying the U.K. was “not afraid to walk away” if the European Union does not give ground on key issues.
David Frost told the Mail on Sunday newspaper that Britain wants “to get back the powers to control our borders and that is the most important thing.”
Frost and EU negotiator Michel Barnier are due to meet in London on Tuesday for the eighth round of negotiations since Britain left the now 27-nation bloc on Jan. 31.
That political departure will be followed by an economic break when an 11-month transition period ends on Dec. 31 and Britain leaves the EU’s single market and customs union. The two sides are trying to strike a new deal on trade, security and a host of other issues, but talks are deadlocked.
The key sticking points are European boats’ access to U.K. fishing waters and state aid to industries. The EU is determined to ensure a “level playing field” for competition so British firms can’t undercut the bloc’s environmental or workplace standards or pump public money into U.K. industries.
Britain accuses the bloc of making demands that it has not imposed on other countries it has free trade deals with, such as Canada.
Frost said Britain was “not going to compromise on the fundamentals of having control over our own laws.”
“We are not going to accept level playing field provisions that lock us in to the way the EU do things,” he said.
Both sides have downplayed the chances of a deal, though some of that rhetoric is muscle-flexing before crucial weeks of talks. The EU says a deal has to be struck before November to allow time for parliamentary approval and legal vetting before the transition period expires.
Barnier said last week he was “worried and disappointed” by the lack of progress and said the U.K. had not “engaged constructively.”
If there is not a deal, tariffs and other obstacles to trade will be imposed from Jan. 1. British freight firms have warned that if that happens there could be logjams at ports and supplies of key goods in Britain could be “severely disrupted.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday that talks were “not going well” and dismissed British attempts to drive a wedge between EU nations on issues such as fishing. Le Drian said the 27 nations remained united.
“We would prefer a deal, but a deal on the basis of our mandate,” he told France Inter radio. “There is room for action, but the whole package, including the fishing package, needs to be taken up in order to avoid a ‘no deal.’”
Associated Press writer John Leicester in Paris contributed.
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