The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has warned that the next 36 hours of trade talks with the UK will be crucial. As he briefed EU ambassadors and members of the European Parliament, he made clear that the two sides have not yet overcome their divisions. He said Brussels and London need to assess by the end of this week whether there is a possibility to reach agreement in the future-relationship discussions, warning that key sticking points remained in the areas of “level playing field” conditions for business, EU fishing rights in UK waters and how any trade deal might be implemented.
Mr Barnier cautioned: “As issues stand, it is not possible to say if a deal will be there.”
Meanwhile, Downing Street continues to insist Britain is ready to leave the transition period without an agreement, despite several business leaders fearing a “dual impact” from both the coronavirus pandemic and a no deal Brexit.
When asked why a trade deal had not already been secured by chairman of The Spectator Andrew Neil, Wolfgang Munchau of EuroIntelligence said: “Both sides are to blame. The EU misjudged the Brexit process from the start and is still misjudging it now.
“There was too much hope that the UK would extend the deadline, they didn’t believe Johnson when he said he would not extend, they didn’t expect to be in this position now where Johnson hasn’t folded.
“The assumption has been in Brussels that the UK needs a deal more urgently than the EU, and for that reason the UK has an interest in conceding.”
If Britain and the EU do not strike an agreement, though, it should not come as a surprise as history appears to be merely repeating itself.
Michel Barnier on brink as eurosceptic MEPs fume at Brexit negotiator while trade talks stall
Brexit endgame timeline
During the withdrawal agreement negotiations, it was clear the EU had misjudged the entire Brexit process.
For example, in an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, Italian MEP Marco Campomenosi claimed that “for unknown” reasons, MEPs from the Identity and Democracy Group, set up by former Italian Deputy Minister Matteo Salvini and President of the National Rally Party Marine Le Pen, were not allowed to attend the meetings of the parliament’s Brexit Steering Group (BSG).
The BSG was the highest decision-making board of the EU Parliament, which had a veto on any withdrawal agreement between the EU and UK.
Mr Campomenosi, who is one of the League’s 28 European parliamentarians, said: “The most absurd and crazy thing is that our political group was not allowed to participate in the Brexit steering group of the European Parliament.
“This is absolutely anti-democratic.”
When asked why, the MEP said: “Nobody knows. They are crazy.
“It is an attempt by members of the steering group of the European Parliament to keep us out of the places where they decide.
JUST IN: Brexit in name only fears as PM ‘likely to cave in to EU demands’
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier
Belgian politician Guy Verhofstadt
“They know that we are friends with the British people, even if we do not have British MEPs in our group.
“In the Identity and Democracy Group, we have Italians, Germans, French, Austrians, Finnish.
“Our group is out of these rooms and so we hope, because we constantly talk to German, Italian, French producers who want an agreement, that there will be some common sense.”
A spokeswoman for the European Parliament admitted to Express.co.uk, that the membership of the BSG “reflected the make-up of the political support of the April 2017 resolution with the UK, in which the Parliament voted on its so-called red lines”.
Because the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), which is now Identity and Democracy (ID), did not vote for the resolution proposed by the other political groups, they were blocked from participating in the BSG.
The spokeswoman said: “ECR, ENF (now ID) and EFDD did not support the resolution and thus their groups do not attend the Brexit Steering Group (BSG).
“Numerous resolutions (of different political coalitions) on Brexit were tabled that April and the one which won the majority of the house formed the basis of the European Parliament policy on Brexit.
Brexit file said ‘clashes could erupt between EU-UK fishing vessels’ [REVEALED]
EU report exposes Macron’s huge fishing bluff amid Brexit row [ANALYSIS]
Leaked email exposed German civil servant who ‘did nothing for 14 year [INSIGHT]
Italian MEP Marco Campomenosi
Italian MEP Antonio Maria Rinaldi
“The BSG is composed of the members representing the groups which drafted and supported the resolution.
“Guy Verhofstadt was appointed the chairman and the other members were chosen by the group themselves and according to their own internal processes.”
Italian MEP Antonio Maria Rinaldi echoed Mr Campomenosi’s claims, criticising the EU’s unwillingness to compromise with Britain.
He said: “The UK is a European client because the EU is a net exporter to the UK.
“So why should we penalise them further?
“It would be like shooting ourselves in the foot.
“In the end, there will be an agreement that will take this into account. Since the referendum, it seems like Brussels has wanted to punish a country, which has democratically decided to leave.
“But they will slowly come to their senses.”
When asked how he sees the negotiations ending, Mr Rinaldi said: “Let’s be clear.
“The UK did not leave Europe, it left the EU, which is just a series of agreements.
“And agreements have been signed and rejected since the days of the Babylonians.”
Former Ukip MP Douglas Carswell
The idea of europhiles “not fully understanding” the Brexit process was also recently reinforced by former Ukip MP Douglas Carswell.
He told Express.co.uk: “The Government’s position is absolutely right.
“That is why we are not going to make any agreements that bind UK public policy to the EU.
“It is up to the EU how they want to respond to that.
“If they want to respond to that by imposing tariffs, it’s on them.
“The EU’s position shows Barnier hasn’t understood what Brexit means.
“The real question here is: ‘Is the EU willing to give us the same terms that it would give Canada?
“If not, it is fine. Given that last year we bought £60billion more than we sold.
“If there is going to be a cross Channel tariff war, I would suggest that we have less to lose than our suppliers.”
Criticising Mr Barnier, the prominent Brexiteer added: “Is it not quite striking that after Boris Johnson’s election, we rely on Mr Barnier to come back to us?
“This is a man who has spent the last three years punishing us, who has used the Irish backstop and every tool to score tactical negotiating.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair
“Was it really sensible to send this man back to the negotiating table to represent the EU’s interests?
“He has made the same threats, and used the same tone of condescension.”
However, Mr Carswell argued that this behaviour has actually been “the greatest Brexit ally” in the last two decades.
He explained: “I have noticed the same pattern repeating itself on the EU side.
“They constantly failed to make the concessions that they ought to have made in a timely manner.
“And as a result they encourage an ever more distant relationship.
“They were intransigent on the Irish backstop.
“They administered to Theresa May the equivalent of a punishment beating.
“What did that do?
“It ensured a Brexit majority, a Boris Johnson government with a massive House of Commons majority and a clear mandate for complete separation.
“They failed to give David Cameron when he was negotiating any credible concession that might have allowed him to convince the public to vote Remain in the referendum.
“In the late Noughties, Tony Blair asked the EU for a more flexible agenda on the Lisbon Treaty.
“They failed to give him any significant concessions on that, too.”
He added: “As a eurosceptic I have always regarded this intransigence as an ally.
“If they had the sense to give more to David Cameron before the referendum, if they had the sense to give more to Theresa May after the referendum, we wouldn’t be heading for the complete departure we are now heading towards.”