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Downing Street has privately blamed the EU’s dealmaker for missing the Prime Minister’s deadline because he has lost control of member states. No 10 sources hit out at the Frenchman after he told European ministers the two sides had not made enough progress to conclude a free-trade agreement ahead of Thursday’s summit of EU leaders. The complaint comes as German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged EU countries to be more realistic in the coming weeks.
Lord Frost, the Prime Minister’s Brexit envoy, is understood to be furious at his counterpart’s failure to convince European capitals to support a climb down on the bloc’s demands for status quo access to Britain’s fishing grounds.
Boris Johnson has been adamant he would walk away from the talks unless a breakthrough is made by the European Council summit in Brussels.
A UK Government source said: “The EU have been using the old playbook in which they thought running down the clock would work against the UK. They have assumed that the UK would be more willing to compromise the longer the process ran, but in fact all these tactics have achieved is to get us to the middle of October with lots of work that could have been done left undone.
“This is all the more frustrating because it is clear that we have come a long way since the beginning of the year. We have approached the negotiations constructively and reasonably but time is now extraordinarily short. We need the EU to urgently up the pace and inject some creativity.”
Mr Barnier has faced an internal rebellion over plans to water down the bloc’s attempts to maintain control over Britain’s coastal waters after the end of the transition period in December.
The row over fisheries has been a key sticking point in the talks over the EU and UK’s future relationship.
UK sources insisted the bloc’s influential coastal states still needed to show “a bit more realism” on the realities of the Government taking control of the UK’s waters if they were to reach an agreement.
After a private meeting with Mr Barnier in Luxembourg, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said: “There are a number of weeks left in this negotiation, not a number of days.
“I don’t see that there will be any major breakthrough this week.”
Lord Frost has told Boris Johnson a deal is still possible despite the bloc’s refusal to budge on the vexed issues of fisheries and state aid.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “The PM also updated Cabinet on the negotiations with the EU, which he said were at a crucial stage ahead of the European Council later this week.
“The PM said Lord Frost is currently in Brussels seeking to find a way through, and he believed there is still a deal to be done.
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“The PM reiterated that, while we want a deal on the right terms, if we can’t get there we are ready and willing to move forward with an Australian style outcome, which holds no fear.”
France has threatened to vote against any agreement unless its fishermen maintain access to British fishing grounds.
But yesterday Germany was urging a U-turn as the negotiations enter a crucial stage with “substantial progress” needed before a deal can be concluded.
The divisions were laid bare by Europe minister Michael Roth, who claimed the so-called “level playing field” and enforcement of the final agreement are more important than fisheries.
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And German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the EU to be more realistic because a deal remains in the bloc’s best interests.
The influential leader said: “We want an agreement. That would be a good thing – and particularly urgent from the Irish perspective. We’re not going to leave Ireland on its own, but rather continue to stand together in these withdrawal talks. But we also have to take into account the reality: an agreement has to be in the interests of both parties, in British interests as well as the interests of the 27-member European Union.”
European industry leaders were also pushing for the bloc to accelerate their efforts to ensure businesses have time to prepare for the New Year.
A spokesman for industry chiefs Ceemet said: “With less than three months to go until the end of the transition period, manufacturing heavyweights from across Europe call on all parties involved to break the current impasse, avoid a no-deal exit, and ensure our industrial sector has the necessary time to adapt.”
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