Latest Brexit trade talks broke up early today with negotiators admitting big splits remain as the clock ticks down to the deadline for a deal.
UK and EU teams held this week’s round in Brussels – their first face-to-face meeting since the coronavirus outbreak – and will hold a return leg in London next week.
A deadline for extending the 11-month transition has passed – piling pressure on negotiators to strike an agreement.
Officials have until December 31 to secure a trade pact, with Britain due to leave the EU single market and customs union in less than six months.
Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost said: “The negotiations have been comprehensive and useful.
“But they have also underlined the significant differences that still remain between us on a number of important issues.
“We remain committed to working hard to find an early understanding on the principles underlying an agreement out of the intensified talks process during July, as agreed on June 15.”
His EU counterpart Michel Barnier said that while Brussels had engaged “constructively”, officials needed to see an “equivalent engagement from the UK side”.
“Our goal was to get negotiations successfully and quickly on a trajectory to reach an agreement,” he claimed.
“However, after four days of discussions, serious divergences remain.”
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Alistair Carmichael said: “With the impact of coronavirus already weighing heavy on UK business and the economy, we cannot afford for the Government to continue posturing on Brexit.
“They must work to secure a deal so that the UK does not leave the transition period with a bad deal or, even worse, no-deal at all.”
Anti-Brexit campaigners insisted the “lack of movement in these negotiations is a damning indictment of both sides’ negotiating strategy”.
Best for Britain chief executive Naomi Smith said: “It is clear that though Britain would be hit hardest, both sides stand to lose from a failure to agree a deal.
“The UK economy is facing an unprecedented recession right now.
“Not agreeing a deal, or agreeing only the silhouette of a proper deal, would be a disaster.
“It’s time for this Government to free UK negotiators from the shackles of its red lines and work with the EU to secure the best deal possible.”