PARIS — On the cusp of a crucial month of negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom, France has lambasted the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson for what it sees as deliberate stalling and for harboring unreasonable expectations.
The 27-nation EU and the U.K. remain deadlocked in their talks on future trade ties after a transitional divorce period ends on Dec. 31. That has raised concerns that no agreement will be in place in time and that tariffs and other impediments to trade will have to be enacted at the start of next year.
“Negotiations are not advancing, because of the intransigent and unrealistic attitude of the United Kingdom,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told his nation’s ambassadors in Paris today.
His comments underscored the recent tone of the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, that the talks seem to be moving backward.
Britain left the EU on Jan. 31 but both sides hoped that a chaotic Brexit could be avoided during 11 months of negotiations.
Both sides have said that September will be a crucial month in the discussions. The EU, for its part, insists that the talks conclude before November to allow time for parliamentary approval and legal vetting.
And Le Drian insisted that the 27 won’t buckle under pressure from London.
“On Brexit we always showed unity and proved wrong those who saw signs of an overall implosion of Europe,” he said. “It is in staying united that we can stick to our line of a global accord.”
The main points of difference appear to center on rules for state aid for businesses and on fisheries.
The EU is insisting on a “level-playing field” for companies from both sides, so British firms can’t undercut EU firms by disregarding stringent rules on environment and social affairs and others. The U.K. is also vexed by EU demands for long-term access to British waters
Both sides say they want to avoid a “no deal” scenario ahead of the next session of talks in London next Monday. They have also said that their divorce should not impede cooperation in the fields of defense security and crime.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who shared the floor with Le Drian, said that the significance of the cooperation between diplomatic heavyweights France, Germany and Britain won’t remain the same if it is not coordinated with EU headquarters in Brussels. That, he said, would result in countries such as Italy, Spain or Poland taking greater responsibility for shaping EU foreign policy.