The European Union’s top negotiator Michel Barnier, has suggested that UK-EU talks on a Brexit withdrawal deal are approaching a crunch moment, saying that “we are not far from the take-it-or-leave-it moment,” according to The Daily Mail.
The EU diplomat arrived in London on the evening of Friday, 27 November, in a rushed bid to hash out a deal on future trade relations between the UK and the EU before Britain’s transition period finishes at the end of 2020. The UK is on the same trading terms with Brussels since it left the bloc in January 2019 as part of the agreed transition period.
Adding urgency to the talks, this is the first time that Mr Barnier has been able to meet with the UK’s Brexit negotiator, Lord David Frost, after he went into self-isolation following a member of his team catching Covid-19.
The window for reaching an agreement between both sides is fast closing.
A failure to do so by January 1, when the UK’s Brexit transition period officially ends, will mean that the UK leaves on no-deal terms, and will likely deliver serious economic consequences to both sides. In a Friday tweet, Mr Barnier noted that the “same significant divergences persist,” particularly on the issues of fishing and fair trade rules.
David Frost said he will continue to push for a deal while the possibility for one remains. However, he cautioned that the agreement must respect UK national sovereignty, including the UK’s right to exercise control over its own immigration policies and fishing waters.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that it was largely up to the European side to make significant steps toward a deal, saying that the UK was prepared to move forward even in the event that discussions collapse.
The “likelihood of a deal is very much determined by our friends and partners in the EU,” BoJo has been quoted as telling reporters.
The main bone of contention holding up the progression of talks is Brussels’ demand that it continue to be allowed access to a large share of Britain’s fishing waters. Boris Johnson has reportedly said that he wants to see EU access to fish catches in British waters cut by 80% while the EU has said it will only accept a 15-18% cut. Another sticking point is that Brussels has said that it wants to be able to apply trade penalties to either side if one violates agreed trading standards. Boris Johnson however, has said that his government refuses to be bound by rules made in Brussels.
The pressure to wrap talks up only continues to mount as the days pass. There is some concern among those hoping for a deal that, even if one were to be reached that was pleasing to both sides, it would be difficult for the EU parliament to get it ratified in time due to the tight deadline. Therefore, proposals have been made to push it through the legislative process in Brussels. One would be for the deal to be written only in English, however France has dismissed this as “sacrificing legal certainty.” Another proposal would reportedly see the EU parliament hold an emergency session between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Reportedly, a decision is yet to be made on which proposal shall be pursued.