Emmanuel Macron is using the post-Brexit trade talks to shore up his domestic standing in France, UK sources have claimed, as they labelled talks with the EU “performance art”.
British sources said the French president was prioritising concerns about his political future over agreeing a free trade agreement with the UK, as he came under pressure from Marine Le Pen, the far-Right leader.
Ministers privately claim that it could take “years” for the UK to return to the negotiating table if the current transition period ends without a trade agreement on Jan 1.
Senior Tories have warned EU leaders not to expect to reopen talks next spring – by which point they believe the UK could already have experienced the worst effects of ending the transition period without a deal.
On Friday, Boris Johnson accused European leaders of having “abandoned the idea of a free trade deal” and told the country to “get ready” for a no-deal outcome in the negotiations after his Oct 15 deadline for reaching an agreement passed.
Senior Brexiteers praised the move, with John Redwood, the former trade secretary, claiming: “The UK will prosper more with no deal than with a bad deal.”
Lord Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator, told his counterpart, Michel Barnier, to call off a planned trip to London for talks this week, after EU leaders issued a joint summit statement calling on the UK to offer compromises on several areas, including fishing rights in UK waters.
UK sources claim that fishing – a totemic issue for British and French coastal communities – has become a significant stumbling block because Mr Macron is using the talks to shore up his domestic position.
Britain has separately repeatedly called on the EU to begin negotiations over draft legal texts, and claims Brussels is refusing to do so because EU leaders want to “bounce” British negotiators into accepting pre-prepared texts.
A source close to the talks said “We couldn’t continue with a negotiation that was more like performance art than real engagement.
That is why we told Michel Barnier that there is no point in him coming to London this week unless there is a fundamental change of approach from the EU.
Most observers would find it incredible at this point that, thanks to EU manoeuvring, there is literally no agreed treaty text of any kind in place. This must change. If it does, we are always ready to listen.”
A Government source added: “Instead of engaging in a meaningful negotiation, the EU seemed to think they could run down the clock to force the UK to make concessions … If they did think that, they have made a major misjudgement about this Government compared to its predecessors.”