There is very little time left for the UK and the EU to reach an agreement that would come into force on 1 January, when the UK, which officially left the EU on 31 January, will end its transition phase and stop applying EU standards.
Several European sources had hinted in recent days that Barnier would only visit London if there were positive signals in the UK. Europeans say they are weary and frustrated by the stalemate in the negotiations, but there is no question of stopping the talks.
Despite his trip to London, Barnier said that the “same significant divergences persist.” Barnier is due to take stock of the negotiations on Friday with the Member States and then with the fisheries ministers of the few countries particularly concerned by this issue.
The access of European fishermen to British waters is one of the major sticking points in the talks with the competition guarantees demanded from the British and the way to settle disputes in the future agreement.
With no trade treaty in place by 1 January to govern their relationship, the UK and the EU face the risk of a new economic shock on top of that caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
The discussion is made all the more complicated by the fact that the European and British parliaments must also be given time to ratify the agreement.
The European Parliament is ready to ratify an agreement until the last days of December, but several sources believe that without a final text next week this timetable will be complicated to keep.