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Big differences at Britain-EU trade talks, Barnier-Frost meeting off

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07/02/2020 | 09:59am EDT
FILE PHOTO: EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier gives a news conference after Brexit negotiations, in Brussels

By John Chalmers

Britain and the European Union (EU) failed to make progress in talks on post-Brexit relations this week due to major differences and called off a one-on-one meeting between their chief negotiators, officials said on Thursday.

After the teams' first face-to-face talks in Brussels since the coronavirus pandemic consigned them to video-conferencing, UK chief negotiator David Frost and EU counterpart Michel Barnier had intended to meet alone on Friday.

But officials said that plan had been ditched.

"The negotiations have been comprehensive and useful," Frost said in a statement. "But they have also underlined the significant differences that still remain between us on a number of important issues."

Barnier said the bloc continued to believe an agreement was possible and in everyone's interest, but its major demands for an economic partnership were unchanged.

"After four days of discussions, serious divergences remain," he said in a statement.

"The EU expects, in turn, its positions to be better understood and respected in order to reach an agreement. We need an equivalent engagement by the United Kingdom."

Britain left the world's largest trading bloc on Jan. 31, but there has been little progress on designing a new relationship with a year-end deadline looming. Both sides had hoped this week's negotiations would reboot the process.

The EU says Britain cannot retain all the economic and trading benefits it had as an EU member, while London says Brussels is not showing enough flexibility.

It insists that Britain must commit to maintaining EU standards on everything from state aid to labour to environment regulations to prevent it undercutting EU products in the future.

Barnier said the EU's position remained that there could be no economic partnership without "robust guarantees for a level playing field - including on state aid - to ensure open and fair competition among our businesses".

(Reporting by John Chalmers, Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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