The latest commercial talks on Brexit ended early today with negotiators admitting that major divisions remain as the clock goes off on a deal deadline.
UK and EU teams have held this week’s round in Brussels – their first face-to-face meeting since the coronavirus epidemic – and will hold a return leg to London next week.
A deadline for extending the 11-month transition has expired: building pressure on negotiators to reach an agreement.
Officials have until December 31 to secure a trade pact, with Britain leaving the EU single market and the customs union in less than six months.
Britain’s chief negotiator, David Frost, said: “The negotiations have been complete and useful.
“But they also stressed 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 of the principles behind an agreement on the intensified talks process during the month of July, as agreed on June 15th.”
His European counterpart Michel Barnier said that while Brussels had engaged “constructively”, officials had to see an “equivalent UK commitment”.
“Our goal was to get negotiations successfully and quickly on a trajectory to reach an agreement,” he said.
“However, after four days of discussions, serious differences remain.”
Brexit Liberal Democrat spokesman Alistair Carmichael said: “With the impact of the coronavirus already weighing heavily on the UK’s business and economy, we cannot allow the government to continue postulating about Brexit.
“They have to work to secure an agreement so that the UK doesn’t leave the transition period with a bad deal or, worse still, no deal.”
Activists against Brexit have insisted that “the lack of movement in these negotiations is an accusation condemnation of the negotiating strategy of both sides.”
The best for Britain’s chief executive officer Naomi Smith said: “It is clear that although Britain would have been hit hardest, both sides could lose due to a failed deal.
“The UK economy is facing an unprecedented recession right now.
“Not to agree on an agreement, or to agree only on the outline of an appropriate agreement, would be a disaster.
“The time has come for this government to free the UK negotiators from the chains of its red lines and to work with the EU to ensure the best deal possible.”