More Brexit brinkmanship as Barnier heads for London

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier travelled to London on Friday (27 November) for face-to-face talks with UK counterpart David Frost with trade talks still deadlocked and both sides once again arguing that the other must compromise in order to reach an agreement. EPA-EFE/NEIL HALL

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier travelled to London on Friday (27 November) for face-to-face talks with UK counterpart David Frost with trade talks still deadlocked and both sides once again arguing that the other must compromise in order to reach an agreement.

On Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters that there is “a deal to be done if the EU wants it,” but again insisted that the UK “can prosper and will prosper mightily in either event”.

“The likelihood of a deal is very much determined by our friends and partners in the EU.

“Everybody is working very hard. Clearly there are still substantial and important differences to be bridged, but we are getting on with it.”

Fisheries, governance and regulatory standards remain the key dividing lines, as they have been since talks began in February.

Barnier summoned EU fisheries ministers for an emergency meeting on Friday (27 November), prompting speculation that a breakthrough could be imminent on one of the most divisive issues in the negotiations.

One proposal mooted by Barnier and EU diplomats involves between 15% and 18% of the fish quota currently caught in UK waters by EU fleets being restored to the UK.

UK chief negotiator David Frost has pushed for a “zonal” arrangement, which would see EU countries allowed only a certain amount of fish from UK waters every year.

France’s Europe minister, Clement Beaune, said the two sides are still “far from an agreement” on fisheries, and insisted that the EU should not be the first to blink.

“The British need a deal more than we do. The Europeans must be confident of this, and confident of their strength in this negotiation,” said Beaune.

Frost, for his part, struck a downbeat tone, indicating the lack of progress that has been made this week.

“Some people are asking me why we are still talking,” Frost tweeted. “My answer is that it’s my job to do my utmost to see if the conditions for a deal exist. It is late, but a deal is still possible, and I will continue to talk until it’s clear that it isn’t.”

Should an agreement be reached, the two sides would face another race against time to translate the text and have it ‘scrubbed’ by legal experts before the parliamentary approval process can begin.

The European Parliament has scheduled an emergency session on 28 December in order to ratify an agreement, while other national governments could provisionally agree on an FTA pending approval in their own parliaments.

The post-Brexit transition period ends on 31 December after which the UK will leave the EU single market.

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