Speaking on June 5th 2020, at the end of the fourth round of talks on post-Brexit trade, EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier said:
Ladies and Gentlemen, to be clear, our lack of progress in this negotiation is not due to our method, but to the substance. We must stick to our commitments if we want to move forward.
We engaged in this negotiation on the basis of a joint political declaration that clearly sets out the terms of our future partnership. This document is available in all languages including English. It is not difficult to read; good weekend reading, if I may say. And this declaration was negotiated with Prime Minister Johnson himself. It was approved by the leaders of the 27 member states at the European Council in October 2019, it has the backing of the European Parliament also.
It is for us, and it will remain for us, the only valid reference, the only relevant precedent in this negotiation. And it was agreed by both sides. Yet round after round, our British counterparts seek to distance themselves from this common basis.
A few minutes later, British Chief Negotiator David Frost gave a press release, saying:
We are now at an important moment for these talks. We are close to reaching the limits of what we can achieve through the format of remote formal rounds.
If we are to make progress, it is clear that we must intensify and accelerate our work. We are discussing with the commission how this can best be done.
We need to conclude this negotiation in good time to enable people and businesses to have certainty about the trading terms that will follow the end of the transition period at the end of this year, and, if necessary, to allow ratification of any agreements reached.
For our part we are willing to work hard to see whether at least the outline of a balanced agreement, covering all issues, can be reached soon.
Any such deal must of course accommodate the reality of the UK’s well-established position on the so-called ‘level playing field’, on fisheries, and the other difficult issues.
It may be that both sides are employing fairly diplomatic language here, but I'm struggling to identify from these comments what the main sticking points within the negotiations are. Barnier seems to be accusing the UK of backtracking on commitments made in the Political Declaration, but I'm still unsure in particular in what way. Frost, for his part, seems to be accusing the EU of being inflexible with regard to the UK's firmly held positions - "the so-called ‘level playing field’, on fisheries, and the other difficult issues", but doesn't really give any more detail.
What are the main bones of contention holding up progress in the trade talks?