The EU has no legal duty to grant the UK privileges offered to other countries in trade deals, an internal European parliament paper has concluded ahead of a crucial round of Brexit talks this week.
The document, drawn up by officials for the parliament’s UK coordination group, is a short analysis of arguments made by the UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, in a letter to his counterpart, Michel Barnier. Frost accused the EU of treating the UK as an “unworthy” negotiating partner by denying the UK “the kind of well-precedented arrangements commonplace in modern FTAs [free trade agreements]”.
EU negotiators were deeply irritated by the letter: they countered that every deal is unique and any agreement with the UK must reflect its proximity and potential to become an economic competitor undercutting European rivals.
While MEPs are not involved in Brexit negotiations, the latest document, seen by the Guardian, underscores that Barnier enjoys the support of the parliament, which must approve the final UK-EU deal.
The EU is “not legally obliged to grant to UK the rights or trade preferences agreed with other third countries in past FTAs”, the document states, adding that the EU is sovereign and has “the right to propose the commitments that are in its interest”.
The cementing of positions comes before a critical fourth round of negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship starting on Tuesday. EU and British negotiators will meet via video link because of coronavirus restrictions, with talks scheduled on 11 different topics, including trade in goods and police cooperation.
The thorny issue of fishing rights has been allocated the most time, amid fading hopes of an agreement by 1 July, a deadline intended to allow the industry time to prepare for changes from 2021.
The two sides will also square off over fair competition conditions to access the EU market, an issue known as the level-playing field that is at the heart of the increasingly bitter dispute.
EU officials have accused the UK of backsliding on promises made by Boris Johnson last October, while refusing to engage in detailed talks on the issue. British officials reject these charges, while blaming the EU for holding up progress on an area of mutual benefit.
British arguments have failed to convince EU diplomats to rewrite Barnier’s mandate, while EU officials have warned of stalemate if this week’s talks fail to progress. Another inconclusive round is likely to set up a difficult encounter between Boris Johnson and the head of the European commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in mid June.
The EU is playing down expectations of that meeting, which was once seen as a decisive encounter at the halfway stage of talks. “No one has the interest at the moment to see this as a make-or-break summit, because we know we won’t have enough progress, so we just need to find a common strategy to deal with it,” an EU diplomat said.
A UK spokesperson said the government would continue to approach talks constructively. “We expect this round to keep the process on track ahead of the high-level meeting later this month, but it’s clear that the EU needs to evolve its position if we are to reach an agreement.
“A balanced solution is needed which reflects the political realities on both sides, and we will continue to make sure our position is understood,” the spokesperson said, adding that the UK would not agree “demands for us to give up our rights as an independent state”.