Michel Barnier will brief EU national governments on the Brexit negotiations on Wednesday morning, amid fears in some capitals that the European Commission is giving up too much ground in the final round of negotiations.
An EU diplomat said that France and some other Member States became “nervous” and would urge Mr. Barnier “to include them before agreeing to anything”.
French President Emmanuel Macron warned on Tuesday that “France will not accept an agreement that does not respect our long-term interests”.
“A deal should allow for a balanced future relationship,” he said.
EU and UK negotiators are working in London to resolve remaining sticking points in the talks – regarding EU fishing rights in UK waters, terms of fair competition for businesses and terms of performance for any transaction.
Barnier told national ambassadors on Friday that the two sides remained far apart on issues such as the “non-regression” of existing environmental and labor market standards, and on how to settle disputes.
But the EU has recently given ground on some points of the talks relating to trade in goods, notably on customs facilitations and measures to facilitate roll-on cargo crossing the Dover-Calais strait. Brussels has also relaxed some of its requirements regarding how much of a good must be produced locally for it to qualify for duty-free trade.
Diplomats said it had fueled concerns in Paris and other capitals that the bloc might pay too high a price for a deal, leaving the UK able to ‘choose’ the benefits of the single market.
The countries most affected are among those closest geographically to the UK, a group that also contains many fishing nations worried about losing their rights in UK waters.
Speaking alongside Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on Tuesday, Mr Macron said their two countries were “among the most affected” by Brexit. “We will be particularly vigilant on the conditions of fair competition, today and in the long term, and on the question of fish,” he said.
EU officials said Mr Barnier’s hasty appearance via video link at a meeting of ambassadors on Wednesday morning was aimed at calming nerves and providing an update on talks that could wrap up in the coming days .
Business leaders have been told to stand by for a conference call with Cabinet Minister Michael Gove on Thursday, sparking speculation the talks could come to a head this week.
But even as Mr Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost seek to push through a deal, Britain is preparing new moves that would breach the divorce deal Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, struck with leaders Europeans last year.
The government is planning a new tax bill containing clauses threatening to overwrite sections of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, Mr Johnson’s allies have confirmed.
The decision to introduce the bill was not intended to destabilize the talks, the prime minister’s allies said, adding that the government had always made it clear that it would introduce appropriate legislation as a “safety net” in case no agreement with the EU was possible.
However, diplomats and EU officials have repeatedly warned that tabling such legislation would risk derailing the talks.
The EU has also warned that it will not ratify any future deal if the UK does not back down from plans to cancel the divorce deal, agreed last year by Brussels and the UK.
A Treasury official said the exact timing of the tax bill was yet to be determined, but did not rule out that it might contain new clauses that violate the law. The “safety net” legislation is expected to be in place before the end of the transition period on January 1.
The new legislation would accompany similar ‘notwithstanding’ clauses in the UK’s Internal Market Bill. If the clauses become law, they would override parts of the divorce agreement – a move that has been condemned by many senior Tories and is the subject of legal action by the European Commission.
The clauses, which do not apply sections of the Northern Ireland Protocol, are designed to set limits on the implementation of the agreement which creates a regulatory trade boundary in the Irish Sea and leaves the UK region following EU customs rules.
Mr Johnson said the clauses are needed as a “safety net” to prevent the EU from applying the protocol in a way that unacceptably undermines the constitutional cohesion of the UK and its internal market.
The EU said Mr Johnson must meet the obligations he had accepted in order to secure the Withdrawal Agreement.