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Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator with the European Union hopes asking for a less ambitious free-trade agreement will unlock the negotiations. David Frost has told EU counterpart Michel Barnier the UK is willing to accept less favourable terms for manufacturers and professionals as part of the final agreement. The Taskforce Europe chief believes lowering the complexity of the pact, in areas such as rules of origin and mutual recognition of qualifications, would mean Brussels dropping its complaints about easy access to its single market.
The move comes after Mr Barnier rejected several proposals put forward by British negotiators as “cherry picking”.
The Government has accepted the trade pact with Brussels won’t be at the “most expansive, most innovative end of the spectrum”.
Downing Street was hoping to secure an agreement that would allow manufacturers to benefit from where both sides to a trade deal with the same country.
It would mean parts sourced from mutual partners wouldn’t count towards limits on how many foreign components can be used in the production of domestic products – known as rules of origin.
No10 also sought to ensure professionals, such as lawyers and architects, would have their qualifications recognised on both sides of the Channel.
Mr Frost also agreed to compromise by signalling the UK could agree to a single overarching agreement with the the EU, rather than separate mini deals.
Last week, Mr Barnier told EU capitals Britain had dropped attempts at “cherry picking” access to these benefits from the single market.
In a private briefing to ambassadors, the Frenchman claimed Mr Frost had adopted a more realistic approach on the issues.
Mr Barnier warned this would mean the trade deal between Britain and Brussels would be “low quality, low profile”.
European sources described the assessment as “sobering”, but said the bloc was willing to continue working on the pact.
“EU ambassadors underlined that the EU27 remain ready to move negotiations quickly forward and expressed the need for more realism in London,” a spokesman for the German presidency of the EU said.
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“They reiterated their commitment to the joint Political Declaration as the basis for negotiations on all issues, including the level-playing field.
“EU ambassadors also expressed the need for speed in order to make parallel progress on all areas of negotiation.”
Brexit talks continue in London tonight and tomorrow before a short summer break.
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The two sides will hold a full round of negotiations in Brussels in mid-August, with further sessions planned for September and October.
British negotiators are hoping to start a “text-based” negotiation to be wrapped up by September.
But Mr Barnier has hinted the talks could yet rumble on into October, which he described as the final deadline for a deal.
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