Barnier’s return to Brexit set talks BACK weeks – he couldn’t even switch his computer on

Brexit: Michel Barnier says 'we will see' as he leaves UK

With less than a month until the end of the transition period on December 31, both the UK and EU are scrambling to come to an agreement. Issues on fishing quotas, state aid and governance continue to gridlock talks.

Last week, both sides claimed they had seen a deal within their grasp but Mr Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, unexpectedly changed his position.

The negotiator set out an EU proposal to break the deadlock in one of the most contentious areas of talks, the so-called level playing field.

But Lord Frost and his negotiating team realised the draft proposal was a repackage of a plan they rejected weeks ago.

One British official said: “Barnier presented it as a new idea.

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“But it was quite that it wasn’t.

“They were going back on things which they’d agreed to over the last few days.

“The mood turned very quickly.”

It is believed the proposal would bind the UK to EU rules and regulations “in perpetuity”.

A British source said: “We went from a position on Thursday morning where we thought we could see our way through to a deal by the weekend to one where it looked almost impossible to see how we’d ever get a deal.”

The Frenchman was forced to step back from the talks when one of his aides tested positive for the coronavirus.

But while attempting to continue to lead talks remotely, Mr Barnier struggled with embarrassing technical difficulties.

An EU official said: “You wouldn’t believe the problems we had trying to get him to switch his computer on right or get his camera working for a video conference.”

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While Mr Barnier was isolating, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tightened her grip on negotiations with her debut chief of staff, Stephanie Riso.

But on the Friday before talks were set to begin again in London, Mr Barnier briefed EU ambassadors and “guided member states” to areas where he thought too many concessions had been made.

A source told The Times: “He raised flags.

“It was masterful and subtle but everyone was aware that Barnier himself was not happy with the Von der Leyen and Riso approach of getting a deal ‘whatever’ it takes.”

During negotiations, France has been among the most vocal in its concerns about the final concessions, with the likes of Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark also raising worries.

France has also been furiously opposed to Britain’s plans to take back control of fishing waters.

Over the weekend, it was revealed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other EU leaders did not endorse Emmanuel Macron’s hard stance.

France’s Europe minister, Clement Beaune, told Journal du Dimanche: “There are different sensitivities across the 27 EU countries.

“It would be naive to deny it.

“But the negotiating mandate is detailed and we are sticking to it.

“As for Chancellor Merkel, she wants a deal, but she also defends our demands – and she knows the European market well enough to guess how the German economy would suffer from a bad deal.

“In short, the British gamble on trying to divide the EU has failed.”

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