Britain has insisted that the European Union should shift position to open the way for a breakthrough in post-Brexit trade talks, with health minister Matt Hancock saying the bloc should drop its “unreasonable demands”.
With less than two weeks before Britain leaves the EU’s orbit, both sides are calling on the other to move to secure a deal and safeguard almost a trillion dollars worth of trade from tariffs and quotas.
Talks to reach a trade deal have been largely hamstrung over two issues – the EU’s fishing rights in British waters and creating a so-called level playing field providing fair competition rules.
Hancock again referred to what Britain has described as new demands introduced by the EU earlier this month, saying they were “unreasonable” and should be dropped.
“We want these talks to reach a positive conclusion, of course I want a deal, everybody wants a deal,” Hancock told Sky News.
“Unfortunately, the EU have put in some unreasonable demands … I am sure a deal can be done but obviously it needs movement on the EU side.”
Britain left the EU on January 31 but has been in a transition period since then. That expires at the end of the year.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has long said he cannot accept any deal that does not respect the country’s sovereignty, a goal that was at the heart of his election last year.
But the EU is equally determined to protect its lucrative single market and wants to prevent London securing what it considers to be the best of both worlds – preferential market access with the advantage of setting its own rules.
There is little time left.
On Saturday, the European Parliament repeated its call for a deal to be reached no later than the end of this weekend, to give it time to properly ratify the agreement.
The EU wants to safeguard the parliament’s right to exercise democratic oversight, but if an agreement arrived later than this weekend the member states could still endorse it on their own to allow for “provisional application”.
The European Union’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Sunday that talks were at a “crucial” point and that the negotiations continued.
“In this crucial moment for the negotiations, we continue to work hard with (UK negotiator) David Frost and his team,” Barnier said on Twitter.
“The EU remains committed to a fair, reciprocal and balanced agreement. We respect the sovereignty of the UK. And we expect the same.
“Both the EU and the UK must have the right to set their own laws and control their own waters. And we should both be able to act when our interests are at stake.”