It is “time for the UK to put its cards on the table” over a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, European Council President Charles Michel said on Wednesday (7 October) after a call with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Following the meeting, a Downing Street spokesperson said that Johnson had “reiterated that any deal must reflect what the British people voted for and that businesses and citizens needed certainty very soon on the terms of our future relationship.”
Appearing before UK lawmakers in Westminster on Wednesday, Cabinet Office Michael Gove and chief negotiator David Frost struck a bullish tone about the prospects of a deal being agreed.
That reflects a recent pattern whereby the UK team plays up the prospect of an agreement, while EU officials continue to play down the idea that significant progress has been made in recent weeks.
Gove put the chances of a deal at 66%, telling MPs that the state of negotiations gave him “cause for steady optimism”, while Frost remarked that an agreement “was eminently achievable”.
Frost also played down concerns that trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms – which would start from 1 January if there is no post-Brexit trade deal – would hurt the UK economy, insisting that “we believe we will prosper if we do so.”
Downing Street officials say that fisheries, and specifically the level of access to UK waters of EU vessels, is the biggest point of division between the two sides, a point emphasised by Johnson and Michel who stated that “significant areas of difference remain, particularly on fisheries”.
That, in turn, suggests that long-standing disagreements on governance and state aid have now been resolved.
On Saturday, Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen effectively extended the deadline for reaching an agreement to the end of October to allow it to be ratified before the transition period during which the UK remains in the single market ends in December 2020.
The two leaders also said that they had “agreed on the importance of finding an agreement, if at all possible, as a strong basis for a strategic EU-UK relationship in future.”
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier is in London this week before a round in Brussels next week, ahead of a European Council summit on 15 October where leaders are likely to make a decision on whether a deal can be obtained this year.
Meanwhile, Michel will meet with Irish Taoiseach Michael Martin on Thursday, a week after the European Commission launched the first step of a legal infringement procedure against the UK government over its draft Internal Market Bill, which would breach the terms of the Irish protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement that took the UK out of the EU.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]