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The latest round of talks between UK negotiator David Frost and EU opposite number Michel Barnier in Brussels ended in stalemate yesterday – with both adopting a gloomy tone afterwards, and the latter once again reminding all and sundry that “the clock is ticking”. However, former Brexit Party MP Ben Habib believes Mr Johnson is essentially flogging a dead horse in his quest for an agreement with the block – and thinks it is time for the PM to play hardball.
Pointing out the negotiating mandate released in February stipulates that if no deal was reached by June 30, the UK would cease negotiations and prepare for no deal, Mr Habib said: “That deadline came and went but the UK did not do as it suggested it might.
“The EU no doubt saw this as weak. Notwithstanding the entirely reasonable demand of the UK to be sovereign, agreement of a trade deal with the EU has floundered on this point of principle.”
Mr Habib, writing in the Telegraph, added: “In his latest pronunciation, Michel Barnier has refused to continue discussing any aspects of a deal until the UK accepts continuity with EU state aid and its fisheries policy.
“In other words, the EU requires the UK to sacrifice its sovereignty to get a deal.”
Pointing out Mr Johnson’s commitment to the Leave campaign’s famous slogan, Mr Habib declared: “Faced with this latest egregious demand, it is imperative the UK now ceases discussions.
“Moreover, the Prime Minister was elected on a promise of taking back control of our laws, our borders, our cash and our fishing.
“It is time for him to show some real mettle and fulfil his promise by declaring in favour of no-deal.
“And, given the wholly unreasonable position taken by the EU, he should take the opportunity to repudiate the Withdrawal Agreement, which holds no benefit, only ills, for the UK.”
He added: “The vote for Brexit was a vote for the UK to regain its sovereignty – no ifs, no buts.
“That vote took place over four years ago. It is high time to enact it.”
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Earlier this week, Mark Littlewood, the director-general of the Institute for Economic Affairs think tank, told Express.co.uk Mr Frost could increasingly play “hardball” in trade negotiations with the bloc.
He explained: “The reason I say that is in essence the European Union’s only trade negotiation at the moment of any real importance is with the United Kingdom.
“We are now at last playing the multi-dimensional chess we should have been playing from the outset.
“We are at last realising that if we make an agreement that shackles us to the EU, that makes trying to negotiate with the other countries, the 92 percent of human beings who don’t live in the EU, considerably more difficult.”
“I think this is where David Frost is in a strong position, because you have got Liz Truss going round the world opening up new flanks.
“What Frost can say is look we want a decent trade with the EU, we want zero tariffs, we want no barriers, but it is not the be all and end all.”
Speaking yesterday, Mr Barnier said: “Those who were hoping for negotiations to move swiftly forward this week will have been disappointed.
“This week, once again, as in the July round, the British negotiators have not shown any real willingness to move forward on issues of fundamental importance for the European Union.
“And this despite the flexibility which we have shown over recent months.”
One again making use of a well-worn phrase, he added: “The clock is ticking.”
Meanwhile Mr Frost insisted a deal was “still possible” and remained London’s goal – but stressed it was not easily achievable.
He added: “There are significant areas which remain to be resolved and even where there is a broad understanding between negotiators, there is a lot of detail to work through. Time is short for both sides.”
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