As Brexit talks between Britain and the European Union increasingly come down to the wire, with an end-of-year deadline approaching to secure a free trade deal, France is hitting the brakes — warning E.U. negotiators not to be pressured by the ticking clock.
“We should not put ourselves, Europeans, under time pressure to finished by this hour or that day. Otherwise we would put ourselves in a situation to make bad concessions,” France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune told the BFM network, in remarks reported by The Associated Press.
The United Kingdom formally left the E.U. in January, having voted to leave in 2016. That departure triggered a transition period lasting until the year to allow for the two sides to come up with a free trade deal.
But talks have been bogged down as well as hampered by the global pandemic. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned Britons to prepare for no deal — which could lead to disruption at ports, tariffs on goods and potential shortages throughout the country.
Johnson himself has been involved in talks, heading to Brussels this month for talks with E.U. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, which have continued by phone since.
Britain has been pushing back against terms, including E.U. fishing rights in U.K. waters, that it sees as infringing on its sovereignty — one of the main issues of the 2016 vote. But the E.U. is similarly cautious of Britain being able to avoid cumbersome E.U. regulations on areas like the environment and gain a competitive edge.
“It’s vital that everybody understands that the U.K. has got to be able to control its own laws completely, and also that we are going to be able to control our own fisheries,” Johnson said recently.
Exacerbating matters in recent days is the new strain of coronavirus discovered in the U.K., which quickly led to European countries limiting travel. France shut down its border for 48 hours, causing chaos for truck drivers in the U.K. port of Dover.
Negotiators have been trying to make progress on fishing rights in British waters and other competition issues, making a deal a possibility again.
However, according to Reuters, E.U. negotiator Michel Barnier told a closed-door gathering that the UK’s latest offer on fishing in British waters from 2021 was “totally unacceptable.”
Reuters reported that E.U. negotiators were prepared to cut the value of its fish catch in British waters by about 25%, but Britain wanted a 30-35% reduction. Meanwhile, the U.K. wants to limit E.U. access over three years, while the E.U. wants a six-year timeframe.
Beaune, the French minister, also said fair competition rules were still a sticking point, even though the Associated Press reported that other E.U. officials said they were close to an agreement. He also said Brits need to respect E.U. rules for any such deal.
“Well, if the British come onto our market, well, they can respect our rules. It is elementary economic justice,” Beaune said. “We will not cede because of time pressure.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.