In Brief

Fears grow Brexit talks could collapse in June

Disagreements over fishing and the ‘level playing field’ could derail trade negotiations

Brexit talks with the European Union could collapse in June unless Brussels abandons its demands for a common fisheries policy and a level playing field, says a source close to the UK’s negotiating team.

The source told The Guardian that only “limited progress in bridging the gaps between us” had been made at last week’s talks, but there was “confidence that progress can be made quite quickly”.

He added that he was “quite positive” over the chances of a trade deal before the end of the year, when the UK’s transition period ends. Boris Johnson is expected to take a more active role in trying to help unblock talks if there is no breakthrough in the months ahead. 

However, Brussels says Johnson is backtracking on promises to uphold common standards on the environment, health and workers’ rights – known as the level playing field. That issue and disagreements over fishing are now key obstacles.

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An EU diplomat said: “Everybody knows that the UK is the world of betting men, but betting alone won’t result in a trade agreement. The continent is as engulfed by Covid as the UK, so I wouldn’t bank on leaders having much time to cater to British fancy. 

“Recovery comes first and last, and a trade deal with the UK is of course a necessary element, but not one that needs to be addressed urgently.”

Another Brussels figure said: “If No. 10 doesn’t change its negotiating approach, we will very likely be looking at a no-deal scenario.”

Downing Street has repeatedly rejected calls for it to ask for an extension to the transition period to avoid such an outcome. 

However, leading UK business figure Gopichand Hinduja said earlier this week that there will be an extension.

He said: “In my view, now that the Prime Minister is back in 10 Downing Street, there will be an extension for Brexit. My instinct is that it’s going to be extended.”

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