Britain and the European Union are still a long way from a post-Brexit trade deal, several European sources told AFP Sunday (25 October), as both sides prepared to resume talks this week.
“The negotiations are progressing, but we are still a long way off,” said one senior European official.
Talks are to continue in London until Wednesday, then in Brussels from Thursday, said another source.
But time is fast running out.
France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune said last week that the EU wanted to wrap up the discussions by October 31 to leave enough time for parliamentary ratification across the bloc’s 27 member states.
“We’ll give it a few days more (into November) to give a chance for the negotiations, but we need to know fairly quickly,” he told the BFM Business network on Thursday.
Talks resumed last week after Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson walked back from the mid-October deadline he tried to impose to get the deal done.
But neither side has budged on the issues that still divide them, such as “level playing field” provisions to ensure Britain does not try to retreat from the EU’s environmental or labour standards, state subsidies and how to arbitrate future differences.
They also need to resolve the question of access to British fishing waters by EU vessels.
Brussels is prepared to offer London a zero-tariffs, zero-quotas deal for access to the EU market, better than the deal offered Canada – but only if Britain is prepared to accept EU standards and regulations.
British minister Brandon Lewis remained upbeat in comments to Sky News on Sunday.
“I hope and I think there are good chances we can get a deal,” he said.
“But the EU needs to understand it’s them to move as well so that we get a deal that works for the UK, a proper FTA that recognizes us the UK a sovereign nation.”
Meanwhile, Ireland’s deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar said on Sunday he believes that Britain and the European Union are likely to secure a free-trade deal in the coming weeks.
“It’s by no means guaranteed but I think on the balance of probabilities it will be possible to agree a free-trade agreement with the UK which means there will be no quotas and no tariffs,” Varadkar told RTE radio.